As debuts go, the Pitt-Johnstown women’s volleyball program couldn’t do much better than this.
The Lady Cats won the PSAC Volleyball Championship during Pitt-Johnstown’s first season in the highly-regarded conference.
“I have no words right now. I think it will hit us later,” said UPJ senior middle hitter Ashley DiRado. “As a senior I could not be happier. I think we proved a lot of people wrong. There were a lot of doubters.”
Pitt-Johnstown finished the memorable conference run with a 3-2 victory over California (Pa.) on Saturday afternoon at Shippensburg University.
Pitt-Johnstown once again won in comeback fashion, 20-25, 25-23, 25-16, 9-25, 15-12.
“It’s our signature to lose the first game for some reason,” said Lady Cats senior Beth Kendera, a Conemaugh Valley graduate. “Then we were on a high until the fourth game. The fifth game we just went strong and continued to go strong until the very end.”
The PSAC crown earned Pitt-Johnstown (26-10) an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Regional Tournament at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va.
“We are just so excited. We worked so hard,” said Lady Cat freshman setter Allison Mondorff. “It’s finally showing, all the work that we put forth for this exact moment.”
PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year Marissa Erminio continued her milestone season with 23 kills and 17 digs in the title match. Erminio, an outside hitter, was named PSAC Tournament Most Valuable Player.
“Marissa does a fantastic job every single game,” Kendera said of her teammate. “She puts more dedication into every game. She talks to everyone and pumps up everyone. She’s an all-around excellent player and we feed off of her.”
Junior outside hitter Kelsey Shanabrook finished with 14 kills and 19 digs for Pitt-Johnstown, while Kendera had 10 kills and five blocks. Katie Svetahor also tallied 22 digs, and Mondorff collected 48 assists.
“Coming into this we were obviously the underdog,” said Svetahor, a junior defensive specialist. “That gave us motivation. There was not one person on this team that wasn’t pumped up this whole weekend. We knew coming into this that everyone thought we would lose. We just came into the weekend to prove everyone wrong. We did that today.”
Pitt-Johnstown entered the tournament as the East’s No. 2 seed. The Lady Cats swept East No. 3 Lock Haven in a home quarterfinal on Tuesday.
Pitt-Johnstown defeated West No. 4 Gannon 3-1 in Friday’s semifinal, also at Shippensburg.
California was the West’s No. 2 seed. The Vulcans advanced with wins over West No. 3 Seton Hill in the quarterfinals, and East top-seed Shippensburg in the semifinals.
“Man, what a rush. It’s very exciting,” said Pitt-Johnstown first-year head coach Joanna Haupt.
“We lost the first set, and we also did that Friday,” she added. “It seems to be a common pattern. It says something about the heart of each and every one of our players that we fought back. That’s something that (assistant coach) Justin (Haupt) and I have no control over. It shows how much heart they have and how much they want to be there and play. We’re thrilled.”