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Decorated senior class helped Ligonier Valley volleyball claim another Heritage Conference title

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Bill Pribisco | For Trib Total Media
The Ligonier Valley volleyball seniors include (from left) Olivia Clark, Alaina Pecora, Taylor Ankney, Rebecca Kromel, Madison McLaughlin and Hannah Yeskey.
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Bill Pribisco | for Trib Total Media
The Ligonier Valley High School Volleyball Team includes (first row, from left) Taylor Ankney, Olivia Clark, Hannah Yeskey, Rebecca Kromel, Madison McLaughlin and Alaina Pecora; second row, Sarah Marsh, Catou Cmar, Kacie Flickinger, Sarah Maskosky, Jenna Henry and Hannah Patrick; third row, Ava Kurtz, Kalyn Vaneerden, Kacie Prior, Autumn Gaynor, Abby Pierce, Kirsten Smith, Haley Pahach, Rachel Horrell, Shelbi Shearer and Amelia Kurtz. photo 8/12/2014 Ligonier Valley High School

The Ligonier Valley girls volleyball team was going to play Westmont Hilltop last week. It was just a matter of when the two teams would take the court — and what the stakes would be.

Before the District 6 playoff pairings were announced, Rams coach Ryan Podlucky had arranged a scrimmage with Westmont Hilltop for Monday night as a postseason tune-up. But when the brackets came out and there was a chance the two teams could meet in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, the scrimmage was canceled.

“We were not aware that all of District 6 was playing in the tournament,” Podlucky said. “We scheduled a scrimmage against a District 5 team that helped us get ready, but we didn’t really compete for a week.”

The No. 3 seed Rams (16-2) had their season come to an end last week with a 3-1 loss to No. 6 Westmont Hilltop in the quarterfinals of the District 6 playoffs at Phillipsburg-Osceola.

Ligonier Valley wasn’t the only highly ranked team to fall in the quarterfinals. Of the top four seeds in the tournament — all of whom received byes in the first round — only No. 1 seed Huntingdon Area advanced to the semifinals.

As has been the case at times this season, the Rams got off to a slow start in the first game against Westmont Hilltop, losing 25-21.

“We definitely had some jitters in that first game,” Podlucky said.

Ligonier Valley fell behind in the second game, so Podlucky called a timeout with the hope of either changing the momentum of the match or implementing a changing of the guard.

“I told the girls if this was the way they were going to go out, I might as well get the young girls in and get them some playoff experience,” Podlucky said. “We could have passed the torch right then and there.”

Instead, Podlucky left his starters on the floor.

Despite closing the gap, the Rams also lost Game 2 by a 25-21 margin. That set up a must-win situation in Game 3, which Ligonier Valley took convincingly, 25-16.

“They came out in that third game and 100 percent executed the game plan,” Podlucky said.

The Rams had an early 9-6 lead in a tightly contested Game 4 that Westmont Hilltop ended up winning 25-23 to close out the match.

“We had the lead and had some confidence, but Westmont fought back,” Podlucky said. “It was 23-23, and they came out and put us away.

“Who knows what could have happened in the fifth game if we score those two points.”

Ligonier Valley posted a 16-1 record during the regular season and won the Heritage Conference title for the second straight year. The team was led by a group of six seniors — Hannah Yeskey, Madison McLaughlin, Rebecca Kromel, Alaina Pecora, Taylor Ankney and Olivia Clark — who helped change the image of the team’s volleyball program on and off the court.

“They changed the culture in relation to volleyball at our school,” Podlucky said of his seniors. “People always came, but now the stands are packed and it’s a great atmosphere.

“It’s something to be a part of.”

Junior Shelbi Shearer and sophomores Catou Cmar and Sarah Markosky will form the core of next year’s squad along with a strong group of young players who are coming up through the program.

“Our younger groups all had winning records,” Podlucky said. “Our junior high team had an 11-5 record this season, so we should be able to keep this going.

“I definitely see us in the playoffs again next year.”

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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