CLARION — Entering the 2010 Punxsy volleyball season, much was made of the Lady Chucks' talent and experience with 11 seniors returning after 10 of them had been part of the program since they were seventh graders.
But the one thing they may have been lacking was a belief in just how good they were.
The Lady Chucks were as dominant as head coach Lisa Good believed they could be en route to a sixth-straight District IX Class AA Championship Saturday afternoon at Clarion Area High School. Punxsy's girls swept Kane (25-12, 25-19 and 25-23) before blowing past St. Marys (25-17, 25-17 and 25-11) in order to once again raise the district championship plaque as high as they could.
"I'm just so proud of them, and I'm just so happy they came through and won it," Good said. "It's a big game, and sometimes you don't play up to your best potential. They got those jitters out against Kane earlier in the morning, and they just played terrific today."
During the past two district tourneys, Punxsy fell behind against Kane before a comeback concluded in the Lady Chucks' favor. Without dropping a set this year, Punxsy had the ability to relax.
"It was nice to have that cushion of a lead," Good said. "We did relax, and I think that helped us to play a little looser."
Punxsy led Kane during the first match, 11-8, before nine-straight service points by Corri Snyder led to the easy victory.
During the second set, Punxsy fell behind 4-0 and trailed 10-6. After Punxsy tied things at 12, Tawnee Bowers' four service points created the separation that was needed for the Lady Chucks to jump ahead 2-0.
Punxsy was behind for much of a back-and-forth third set, which turned into a 23-all tie. A missed serve by Kane put the Lady Chucks one point away before they finished off the Lady Wolves, 25-23.
During the match win over Kane, Shawnna Crago led with nine kills and also had six digs. Both Taylor Powell and Megan Muth added five kills, and Melissa Blose and Bowers followed with three apiece.
Snyder had a team-best 10 service points and 15 set assists. Kristen Fedder followed with 12 assists, and Bowers had eight points to go along with five service aces and 14 digs. Hannah Neal had 12 digs, and Blose managed two blocks.
An emotional 3-2 victory by St. Marys over Kane set the stage for the Lady Dutch and Lady Chucks to play for the district crown. But St. Marys couldn't keep up with Punxsy.
A five-point service run by Bowers pushed Punxsy ahead 7-2 early, and it was up by seven to nine points during the rest of the set after Cassie Cook managed three points to make it a 12-3 contest.
St. Marys scored the first three points of the second set, but three-straight points by Cook turned a 14-13 deficit into a 16-14 lead, which Punxsy wouldn't relinquish, later in the set. Up 18-16, Blose put the set away with five-straight service points. Four- and five-point service runs by Bowers were focal parts of the Lady Chucks' 25-11 third-set win, which clinched the district title.
Bowers led with 17 points and eight aces during the second match, totaling 25 and 13 in those two categories on the day. She added a team-best eight kills against St. Marys and also had eight digs.
Fedder led with 15 assists, and Snyder followed with 12. Crago tallied eight kills, Powell had six, and Neal tabulated a squad-high 12 digs. Cook registered seven digs and seven points.
After dropping two matches during a four-match stretch from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4, the Lady Chucks began to improve their play one match at a time before striking gold Oct. 16 when they won the West Shamokin tournament.
Oct. 16, Punxsy went from an impressive team that had a history of beating up on its district to a tournament-winning squad that suddenly had perspective on its ability.
"I think at one point, we did doubt ourselves. At that West Shamokin tournament, we all came together, and we all gained confidence after winning game after game," Neal said Saturday. "We realized that we are a really good team, and we can go all the way."
"That definitely opened up our eyes," Powell said Saturday, also noting Punxsy's win at the West Shamokin tournament. "We saw what we were capable of. Just knowing that we could play like that and play together, we knew we could do it."
Saturday, they appeared just as good as they believed.
"I think they are confident this year," Good said. "I think they came in(to districts), just as I did, expecting to win."
Next up for Punxsy is a new format at the state playoffs. In the past, Punxsy would compete in a best-of-five state match on the Tuesday after districts for a shot to advance to the PIAA tournament in York.
This season, the Lady Chucks will join District X champion Meadville, District VI champ Penn Cambria and District VII runner-up Indiana next Saturday in North Hills. All four teams will play each other in a best-of-three match, with the best two teams advancing to York Nov. 19-20.
"I think we're going to do well. I think we're confident this year. Everybody really wants it," Powell said. "We (wanted it) other years, but this year, I think we're ready to do well. I think we'll come out as one of those top two spots."
While the Lady Chucks won the last five district titles, they never advanced past the first match at states. Punxsy hopes its new-found conviction will end that trend, starting next Saturday in North Hills.
"(It's all about) confidence and the mental game," Neal said. "We have the talent. We just have to have it in our heads."