GUYS MILLS – Coming off of their first District 10 title in three years, the Maplewood Tigers girls volleyball team’s season came to an end on Saturday after dropping a thriller of a match on their home court to Philipsburg-Osceola in the PIAA Class 2A Quarterfinals.
In only their second five-set match of the season, the Tigers (20-3) fell 9-25, 25-23, 17-25, 25-23, 15-9 to the undefeated Lady Mounties (19-0). As the score shows, though, Maplewood had opportunities throughout the match and “never quit,” as coach Sheila Bancroft said.
“You’re going to see the best of the best right now,” Bancroft said of the playoffs. “(Philipsburg-Osceola) is a good team, and I think we were a good team today. It’s a game of inches and it showed that. We lost it by just a couple points here-and-there and had opportunities we just couldn’t complete.”
The Tigers started the match with explosive energy and raced to a wide lead in the first set, which Maplewood junior middle hitter Avery Brunot topped off with a set-point hit off of her hand to win it 25-9 and take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Lady Mounties bulked up for the second set, though, as it was their turn to rally from the first point and hold a long lead over Maplewood. The Tigers managed to bounce back and tie the set at 13-13 after blocking or digging several attacks from Phillipsburg-Osceola’s Reese Hazelton, a freshman outside hitter who has proven to be a force for the Lady Mounties’ offense this season.
The Tigers took the lead for the first time in the second set at 17-16 and the two sides stayed within a couple points of each other for the remainder, but a late ace at 23-22 from Philipsburg-Osceola’s Kalista Butler helped propel the Lady Mounties to clinch the second set and even the match at 1-1.
Early in the third set, Maplewood fought back from a 4-2 deficit with a four-point run to take the lead and hold it with at least a couple-point buffer through the rest of set. A tip from sophomore outside hitter Sadie Thomas on set point helped Maplewood take both the third set and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The two sides played neck-and-neck in the beginning of the fourth set until one of the longest rallies of the match at 4-4 was won by Maplewood with a kill from Brunot. The Tigers then capitalized on the momentum to go on a six-point run and earn a 10-4 lead.
The Lady Mounties soon fought back, though, and, after a point on each side, went on their own seven-point run to take the lead back at 12-11. Brunot tallied another kill to tie the game back up at 12-12, and errors from the Lady Mounties, plus a float serve ace from Maplewood senior libero Madison Crawford, helped the Tigers hold the lead for several points until Philipsburg-Osceola tied the set again at 15-15.
Similar to the second set, the two teams stayed within a couple points of each other from then until 23-23, when an attack from Philipsburg-Osceola’s London Cutler marked set point for the Lady Mounties. Butler then blocked a Tiger swing at the center of the net to help them even the match once again at 2-2.
A series of hitting errors from the Maplewood side helped the Lady Mounties take a fast 7-2 lead in the final set, but a trio of kills from Chloe Leech helped the Tigers gain momentum again and continue to narrow the lead until their last point earned down 11-9.
The last bit of energy for the game shifted back to the Lady Mounties at that time as they sealed their victory with a four-point run to move on to the state semifinal match.
“Down the stretch, we were digging, they were digging,” Bancroft said. “They got a little better at the end and then they got better on ball control and passing and we did not, so it kept us out of our offense a little bit.”
Thomas led the Tigers with 29 kills and 11 digs, while Leech put in a similar effort with 23 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore setter Bailey Varndell helped poise the offense with 58 assists, and Crawford led the defense with 18 digs. Brunot and senior outside hitter Kaysea Thomas also contributed four kills apiece.
“They did a great job, and that was the goal going in here,” Bancroft said. “We knew (Hazelton) was going to get her kills, and we had to be able to control and contain the other hitters. They stepped up and played the game.”
Philipsburg-Osceola coach Dave Eckberg said his Lady Mounties “try to recuperate” soon following Saturday’s match as they will turn around and head to the state semifinal match on Tuesday to face North Catholic, who swept Redbank Valley on Saturday in their state quarterfinal matchup.
“That was a great, great team we played,” Eckberg said of the Tigers. “Coach (Bancroft) has been doing it a long time, you can tell. Her team played phenomenal and it took us a while to get started, but I’m happy for the kids.”
As the 2020 season comes to a close for Maplewood, Bancroft said she was grateful the teams had the opportunity to play as far as they did amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and hoped the Lady Mounties can continue their playoff run as the Tigers look ahead to next year.
“It has been a stressful season, and I compliment the girls for hanging tough and doing what they do,” Bancroft said. “We’re going to miss our seniors without a doubt – they’re a great group – but we got some great underclassmen coming back and they know what it’s like now. We just need to step up and get back in the gym and get ready for another year.”