Lady Chucks struggle at season-ending state tournament

PITTSBURGH — Saturday at North Hills High School, the Punxsy volleyball team didn't look anything like the group that won every match but two and easily swept its way to a district championship this season.

Unfortunately for the Lady Chucks, their worst performance came at the start of the PIAA Class AA playoffs, and after compiling a 1-8 record through nine sets of action Saturday, their season came to a close.

Punxsy finished in last place of the four teams in its pool. Both Indiana (8-1) and Meadville (6-3) advanced to the state quarterfinals, while Penn Cambria (3-6) and the Lady Chucks played for the last time this year.

Punxsy may have played its most troublesome set all year to start, falling to Penn Cambria, 25-9. The Lady Chucks played better after that, but the Lady Panthers completed the sweep with 25-19 and 25-22 victories.

Punxsy head coach Lisa Good said she had no explanation as to what happened to her team Saturday.

"Yes, the competition was good, but we did not play as well as we have throughout the season," Good said. "We had trouble executing throughout. We win as a team, and we lose as a team."

Punxsy's still felt good about its chances after dropping all three sets to District VI Champion Penn Cambria, as the Lady Chucks' next opponent, District X Champion Meadville, also lost its first three sets.

Meadville looked out of rhythm during its bad start against Indiana, but once it played Punxsy, things changed completely. The Lady Bulldogs took it to Punxsy in the form of 25-15, 25-13 and 25-12 wins.

As Punxsy entered its final match against WPIAL runner-up Indiana, its chances of advancing to the state quarterfinals were already out of reach. Indiana won the first two sets against Punxsy before the Lady Chucks were able to complete a season-ending set with a 25-15 victory.

Punxsy was ahead 10-9 during that set before a 7-1 run helped the team end the season on a positive note.

"(Winning the last set) was bittersweet. I'm upset and sad," Good said. "I would have liked to have won and gone to the next level, but these are great kids. I'm going to miss seeing them on the court and having them around, and they're going to miss it, too."

Punxsy was forced to say goodbye to 10 seniors who were the backbone of the program for many years now. During their four years at the high school level, Punxsy won four-straight district titles, won the regular season league title every year and lost just two District IX games — both to Clarion, which was one of the best Single-A schools in the state during those seasons.

"This group of seniors will be greatly missed. They have a great love of the sport and a great love for each other," Good said. "They have grown and matured through the years as awesome young women."

Senior libero Hannah Neal managed a team-best 37 digs on the day. Her diving saves kept some balls off the floor during the first few sets of the day.

Senior Corri Snyder and junior Cassie Cook followed with 27 digs apiece.

Snyder also managed a squad-best 36 sets assists. She was trailed by senior Kristen Fedder, who tallied 19 assists.

Senior Shawnna Crago had more kills than Punxsy's next two hitters combined. Crago led with 21 kills and seven blocks.

Another pair of upperclassmen, Melissa Blose and Taylor Powell, had eight kills apiece.

The most surprising thing about Punxsy's bad day was the fact that it was incredibly confident entering the tournament and felt even better about its chances after the pre-match warmup.

"We warmed up that first game, and we were on fire. We looked so good. As soon as we started the game, it all went downhill from there," Good said. "I was confident when we came in, and after I came and watched the first two teams (Indiana and Meadville) play, I (said), 'Hey, we're good. We're ready.'"

Punxsy fans got a glimpse of its future, as after the Lady Chucks fell behind 2-0 to Meadville, underclassmen Cook, Brooke Doney, Janie Depp-Hutchinson, Chelsea Engeholm, Shayla Brink and Sydney Weaver started the third set.

Those girls, along with a few off the bench, fell behind 17-6, but finished strong during a 25-12 loss.

Punxsy fans in attendance at the tournament nearly matched those of the WPIAL schools, even if it was a nearly two hour trip to North Hills High School.

"I want to share my gratitude to these parents for all the support throughout the years," Good said. "And to our loyal fans who never lost hope or enthusiasm at our games."