Local fairs are nearing an end. Kids have started packing school buses again. Even the leaves have begun to fall.
That can mean only one thing, right?
Alright, so to most it means the weather is about to turn colder and Halloween is just around the corner. But to local high school volleyball fans, it means it’s time for another thrilling girls volleyball season, which in the last 10 years has ended with 12 District 10 or 9 teams in the state final.
Volleyball in these parts is strong!
The 2021 season kicked off in a big way on Saturday with the annual 16-team Fort LeBoeuf Volleyball Tournament where 2018 Class 3A state runner-up Warren outlasted five-time state champion Maplewood 25-23, 25-19 for the title.
Maplewood, ranked ninth in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason rankings in Class 2A, topped Sharpsville in the quarterfinals and a seasoned Fort LeBoeuf squad in the semifinals to reach the championship bout.
The Dragons beat Meadville in the quarterfinals and then Harbor Creek, ranked fifth in Class 2A by the PVCA, in the semifinals. Girard and Saegertown were also in the quarterfinal round.
Just the beginning
The Fort LeBoeuf tournament certainly set the stage for a great season. But Tuesday is when it really kicks into high gear for teams.
Last year was supposed to be the debut of District 10’s newest realignment. However, District 10 opted to form smaller regions and ones that required less travel due to COVID-19.
Needless to say, 2021 will look mighty different, and for the Class 2A regions -- Region 3 and 4 -- the stakes will be pretty high as the teams in those 11-team regions will face region foes just once throughout the campaign.
There will be no room for error -- even as early as Tuesday. That is when rivals Oil City and Franklin meet. Junior varsity action is scheduled to start at Oil City High School at 6 p.m. with varsity to follow. Not only will these teams be fighting for bragging rights in Venango County, but the result could have implications weeks from now when teams are battling it out for the region title and playoff positioning.
Franklin swept the season series last year against the Oilers. The Knights won the first meeting 25-15, 22-25, 25-21, 25-19. Oil City had revenge on its mind a few weeks later and opened with a 25-13 set win against Franklin. But the Knights won the next three, 25-21, 25-21, 25-14 to take the series.
Franklin finished the season at 4-16. Oil City was 1-17.
The Knights and Oilers will be in for a dogfight in Region 3, which also includes Sharon, Wilmington, Greenville, Lakeview, Slippery Rock, Reynolds, Sharpsville, Titusville and Maplewood.
Wilmington (Region 1) and Maplewood (Region 4) were both region champions last year. And Sharpsville is primed for a good season with Region 2 player of the year Cady Benedict back at middle hitter for the Blue Devils.
Franklin has a very young team with just one senior - outside hitter Kyla Hart. The Knights also have four juniors - libero Gabby LaJeunesse, setter Sydney May, middle hitter McKenzie McFadden and outside hitter Justyne Boal. There are five sophomores and nine freshmen.
Neither Oil City or Franklin had an all-region player last season.
Titusville middle hitter MacKenna Marvin earned second team all-region honors in Region 4. But she since graduated from a Rockets team that was 6-10 last season. Titusville travels to Union City for a non-region match on Tuesday.
Maplewood opens its season against rival Cochranton.
Here we go
One of the top rivalries in girls volleyball is between Maplewood and Cochranton.
The Lady Tigers and Lady Cardinals are traditional powerhouses. They have six state titles between them. They also happen to be coached by two of the area’s longest tenured coaches Sheila Bancroft and Marci Malliard, who also happen to be very good friends.
Wednesday’s showdown at Cochranton should be another dandy.
The Tigers and Cardinals both lost some big talent to graduation and preseason injuries, but still have a lot left in the tank.
Among the players back for the reigning District 10 Class 2A champion Tigers are all-state outside hitter Sadie Thomas, who was second on the team in kills last year with 253 and had a team-best 47 service aces. Setter Bailey Varndell (692 assists, 44 aces) -- an all-region and all-district selection -- is also back as are Avery Brunot (outside hitter), Madison Vergona (middle hitter) and McKenna Crawford, who will take over for her sister, Madison, at libero.
The Cardinals, D-10 runner-ups in Class 1A, return a trio of all-region picks in Devyn Sokol (outside hitter), Dana Jackson (setter) and Chelsey Freyermuth (outside hitter).
Elsewhere, the Grove faces stiff competition in Region 1
Rocky Grove ended the 2020 season at 9-7. The Orioles are now in Mercer County-heavy Region 1 with Commodore Perry, Jamestown, Kennedy Catholic, Farrell, West Middlesex and Mercer.
The Orioles, who lost second team All-Region 3 outside hitter Kennedi Winslow, return Courtney Clark, Abby Williams and Sarah Plumer among others.
Rocky Grove’s hosts Jamestown in a region opener on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Oil City travels to face Cranberry.
Oil City High School Girls Volleyball
The Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association is usually pretty good when it comes to its state rankings in girls volleyball. With that said, the prognosis is pretty good for another spectacular season in District 10 and District 9.
Defending champion Clarion holds the No. 1 spot in the PVCA’s preseason rankings in Class 1A. Locally, Cochranton and Saegertown will likely sneak their way into those rankings soon. The Cardinals, again, have a lot of talent back, as does Saegertown, which won a share of Region 3 last season -- it’s first since 1976 -- and just its second D-10 championship.
In Class 2A, District 3’s Trinity, the reigning state champion, is No. 1 followed by runner-up Philipsburg-Osceola, who ended Maplewood’s season in the state quarterfinals last year. Harbor Creek is fifth; Maplewood is ninth.
Conneaut Area is the lone District 10 team in the Class 3A rankings, which will most definitely change throughout the course of the season. Class 3A is loaded in D-10 this season. There’s Fort LeBoeuf invite champion Warren, Conneaut, Fort LeBoeuf and Villa Maria -- just for starters. And don’t count out Meadville.
Strap in folks!
Lisa Renwick was a long-time sports reporter and sports editor for The Meadville Tribune. She recently took another job in order to spend time with her family and especially her daughter Brynlee who is entering kindergarten.
Lisa has covered state champion volleyball programs in her tenure and is main reason girls athletics and volleyball has gotten such award winning coverage over the last 20 years. She has agreed to help us out here at Eight and 322 with this fall's volleyball season. We are thrilled to have her.