Sports Town will review the 2011-12 school year during July. Today we revisit the girls volleyball season.
The third time was a charm for the Seneca Valley girls volleyball team in the WPIAL Girls Volleyball Championships. The Raiders claimed the Class AAA title with a 3-2 marathon victory against defending champion Pine-Richland.
"It feels great to finally get the gold," Seneca Valley setter Alex Karika said. "We got second the last two years. To finally get the gold is so amazing. We worked so hard to make this dream come true."
Seneca Valley, seeded No. 2 in the 16-team Class AAA bracket, was making its third consecutive appearance in the finals. The Raiders lost to Pine-Richland in last year's title match. The two teams sat atop the WPIAL rankings all year, with Pine-Richland claiming the top seed.
"It was quite appropriate that we faced Pine-Richland again," said Karika, referring to the fact that Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland split a pair of Section 3 matches during the regular season. "Pine-Richland is our biggest rival. To beat them in the finals feels really good."
Pine-Richland rallied from a 24-22 deficit in the first set to pull out a 28-26 victory. Seneca Valley rallied to win the next two sets, 25-18 and 25-23. The Raiders also held a 17-14 lead in the fourth set, but the Rams rallied to claim the victory, 25-23.
"We let down too early in the fourth set," Raiders middle hitter Cate Seman said. "We tasted gold a little too early. Fortunately, we were able to change the momentum in the fifth set."
Pine-Richland also jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the fifth and deciding set. But just when it looked like the Rams would claim a second straight title, the Raiders stormed back to score 11 of the last 12 points and win 15-9.
"The nail-biter for me was game four, but I didn't stop believing," Seneca Valley coach Karen Martini said. "If they were ever going to step up during their career as a Seneca Valley Lady Raider, it was going to be at that point. They stood up, took the challenge, and owned up to it."
In Class A, Avonworth made its first appearance in a WPIAL title, but the Antelopes had to settle for a silver medal after dropping a 3-1 decision to Elderton. The key to Avonworth's loss was the third set.
Elderton won the first set 25-23. Avonworth claimed the second set 25-18 and had 24-17 lead in the third set, but allowed it to slip away. The Bobcats scored 13 of the last 17 points to to record a 30-28 victory, then dominated the fourth set 25-17 to close out the match victory.
"I thought we had it. I really thought we had it," Avonworth coach Doug Vandervort said. "We made some critical errors, missed some serves, and had some unforced errors. That was clearly the turning point of the match.
"It was hard to come back from that. It always is when you lose like that in such an important set. If we get that last point, we go up 2-1. Instead, we're down 2-1."
In Class AA, No. 1 seed Hopewell claimed its sixth title in ten years with a 3-0 sweep of No. 3 seed and defending champion Freeport.
"The last two years, Freeport was the team that stopped us from being where we wanted to be," said Hopewell middle hitter Shatori Kimbrough-Walker said, referring to the fact that Freeport beat Hopewell in the 2010 semifinals and 2009 quarterfinals. "We were not going to let it happen a third time."
It was obvious from the start that Hopewell had too much firepower for Freeport. The Vikings posted a 25-16 win in the first set, pulled out a 25-20 victory in the second set, and totally dominated the third set, 25-10.
In the PIAA Tournament, Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland advanced to the semifinals, but neither had the firepower required to knock off their opponent.
"It's disappointing to get this far and not play in the championship match," Pine-Richland coach Emily Walker said. "We were hoping for that storybook finish, in which we bring back the gold medal, but that happens for so few."
Seneca Valley and Pine-Richland were the most dominant teams in the WPIAL the past two years. The two met in the WPIAL championship match both years, with Pine-Richland claiming the crown in 2010 and Seneca Valley gaining revenge this year.
Seneca Valley made its second straight appearance in the semifinals and the result was the same as last year. The Raiders gave District 3 champion Landisville Hempfield all it could handle, but lost in three sets. The Raiders lost 25-23 in two of the three sets and 25-18 in the other.
"They made fewer mistakes and passed the ball better than we did," Martini said. "It's disappointing because I really thought this team had the talent required to win the title."
Pine-Richland, the WPIAL Class AAA runner-up, was swept by District 11 champion Parkland. The Rams dropped a narrow 25-23 decision in the first set and never recovered. Parkland took charge at that point and won the final two sets, 25-11, 25-13.