SIDMAN – Perseverance was key for the Northern Cambria girls volleyball team Tuesday night.
In a match against District 7 runner-up Fort Cherry in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs, the Colts created several obstacles that seemed difficult to overcome.
But in typical fashion, Northern Cambria didn’t let anything hold it down as it defeated the Rangers in five sets (21-25, 25-16, 25-14, 26-24) to advance to the next round.
“It was scary. This was an emotional game,” senior middle hitter Jenna Lutch said. “We knew we had it in us to win, but it was more of us needing to work together. We were not doing that at all for the first game, and in the fourth game, we let it slip away a little bit. But we finally all came together and won.”
That resilience was evident in set four.
Fort Cherry was on the verge of sending the game to a do-or-die fifth set, and the Colts trailed by six with the game on set point.
But with a valiant effort, Northern Cambria embarked on an 8-0 run to send the Rangers packing.
“I think it’s our grit and our determination,” junior opposite hitter Maggie Hogan said of what led to the comeback to close out the game. “We work hard in practice.
“We work hard to get where we are.”
While the team has worked all season to improve with serve-receive, that issue became prevalent once again early on.
The Colts struggled to get a solid first touch, which only hindered the offense.
“You start to doubt yourself a little bit,” senior right side hitter Brooke Lieb said.
“After the second or third game, I thought we were able to pull together as a team. We were really able to bring each other up after those moments.”
Northern Cambria (20-1) also couldn’t crack the code on Fort Cherry’s front row.
The Rangers (15-6) were able to stifle several hard attackers from hitters Hogan, Lutch and Emma Kollar.
“I think we were just thinking too much,” Lieb said. “When we’re thinking too much, that’s when we lose points. It just messes with us mentally. We weren’t as mentally tough as we needed to be.”
But following a rough first set, Northern Cambria saw its defense rise to the occasion.
Several Colt digs kickstarted a strong defensive rally, which in turn got the Colts attack moving in the right direction as well.
Northern Cambria also doubled down with its play under the net.
Several strong blocks from Lutch and Lieb immediately put to rest numerous Fort Cherry attacks.
“Coach (Mike) Hogan was telling us ‘You need to go, or we’re going to be done,’ ” Lutch said. “We don’t want to be done. I think we need to get it in our minds that we’re not unbeatable. They got us. They got us in the first game, and we need to keep that in our minds that we’re not going to win every set. We need to come back stronger.”
The Colts eventually worked things out and got on the winning track.
But if Northern Cambria has any hope of repeating its state title, the team acknowledged that a cleaner start is critical.
“We learned from this,” Lieb said. “All good teams have to lose to do well. If you’re a good team and you never lose, you never know what it feels like to lose. You really don’t know have to get out of it. We’ve been down in so many games before, and that’s what really helped us come back.”
Northern Cambria now advances to the quarterfinals this Saturday where it will face Cochranton, which beat Elk County Catholic 25-15, 25-16, 20-25, 25-15, at a time and site yet to be determined.