Philipsburg-Osceola won the second set and led Penn Cambria for much of the third in the District 6 Class AA volleyball finals Saturday afternoon at the Altoona Fieldhouse.
But when top-seeded P-O extended its lead to 20-10, the second-seeded Lady Panthers began their comeback with the strong net play of Tori Shingler and Taylor Freeman. PC outscored P-O 18-6 the rest of the way to win the third set, 28-26.
The Lady Panthers rode that momentum into the fourth, and when a P-O hit went long, PC celebrated a 25-12, 16-25, 28-26, 25-18 win and a district title.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Penn Cambria celebrates winning its District 6 Class AA volleyball championship over Philipsburg-Osceola.
"I think that was the turning point," PC coach Leah Montgomery said of the third set. "I think if they had lost that one, I don't know if they could have re-grouped or not. I'm real proud of them."
"We started off with a lot of unforced errors, but I really think it showed our character to come through," Freeman said. "I really think that set the momentum going into the fourth game."
"I think the team just lifted each other up," said Shingler, who had 17 kills. "We're good talking to each other and encouraging each other."
After PC (21-0) won the first set, the Lady Mounties (18-1) charged out to leads of 10-3 and 13-7 thanks to the net play of Marlee Chutko and Abby Showers. But a couple kills and a block by Shingler brought PC back, tying the score at 15-15. P-O, however, outscored PC, 10-1, from there, winning the second set off Kylie Scovern's serve.
Freeman began kick-starting the third-set comeback with back-to-back kills and with the serving of Karissa Buzzella, who had 15 service points, PC stormed back. Buzzella's ace made it 20-17, and Shingler's dink over the net made it 20-19. An unforced P-O error made it 20-20.
"We really had momentum halfway through game three," P-O coach Dave Eckberg said, "and we just kind of let them off the hook. That was tough to come back from."
"Philipsburg is just a phenomenal defensive team," Freeman said, "so it really made us have to strategize and place our hits."
From there, the score was tied at 22-22, 24-24 and 26-26. But, a Buzzella kill gave PC the lead, and a Shingler kill following a really long rally gave the Lady Panthers the third-set win.
"She was up and down," Montgomery said of Shingler. "She came through when we really needed it, and so did Taylor and Karissa. The team as a whole pulled together to get it done."
Freeman, the senior captain, notched a team-leading 19 kills and 16 digs.
"She's a very big part of the team," Montgomery said. "She has the most kills, the most digs and she's the passer."
"We knew coming in our height would be our advantage," Freeman said. "I think Tori and I had to use it to our advantage, and I think it worked."
PC charged out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth, but P-O began working its way back, getting to within two, 14-12. The Lady Panthers, though, extended their lead and won the title. Afterward, there were smiles, hugs and high-fives for PC and tears for P-O, which is done for the season.
"It's feels great," Montgomery said, "because I really wanted it for this group of girls. They've worked for it, and they've gotten along so well. There's been no drama. I'm glad they pulled through it."
"It feels absolutely amazing," Freeman said. "We worked so hard to get here, and I could not be more proud of my team."
PC will now prepare for the first round of the PIAA playoffs. Its first game is 8 p.m. Tuesday at Central Cambria against the District 7 runner-up.
"This is going to be all new," Montgomery said. "Usually, at the state level, to be honest, those teams are really good. We've really got to be on."
PENN CAMBRIA: Buzzella 15, Gawel 11, Yusko 10, Kroull 8, Shingler 3, Freeman 2, Sheehan 2.
Records: Penn Cambria (21-0); Philipsburg-Osceola (18-1).