Ford City put an exclamation point on the final girls volleyball season in school history.
The No. 4 Sabers (18-1) won the first WPIAL volleyball in school history, defeating Thomas Jefferson, 3-2, in the championship match Saturday afternoon at Baldwin High School.
“It’s crazy,” said Justyne Lasher, who had a team-high 19 kills. “Who would ever think that little old Ford City, who’s never done anything with volleyball, would come out and be WPIAL champions?”
Before this season began, Ford City had never won a section title and had never advanced beyond the WPIAL quarterfinals.
On the strength of a 14-match winning streak, the Sabers accomplished both this year. They defeated defending WPIAL champion Freeport in the semifinals Thursday night and followed that up by winning Ford City’s first WPIAL championship in any sport since 1988.
It will also mark the school’s last WPIAL championship in girls volleyball, as Ford City will merge with Kittanning at the conclusion of the 2014-15 school year.
“It’s a great way to go out,” Ford City coach Andrea Lasher said. “We have our shirts that say it’s the end of an era, but the girls have left their mark, made history many times over and over again. I can’t ask for any more. And we’ve still got more to play.”
Saturday’s match was a close one, as Ford City rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 and won the deciding fifth set, 15-13.
“Both teams played well,” Thomas Jefferson coach Ron Kelly said. “Both teams made a couple service errors, and both teams made a couple hitting errors. But both teams made a lot of great defensive plays. That’s what it’s supposed to look like in a championship, I believe. That was a good match.”
No. 2 Thomas Jefferson (17-1), playing in its first WPIAL title match since 2001, won the first set 25-16 behind the play of 6-foot-2 middle hitter Rachel Stover. Stover had four kills in the first set and finished with 20 in the match.
But as the match went on, the Sabers — who have no starters taller than 5-foot-9 — battled back on defense. They kept Thomas Jefferson’s taller front line from dominating the match.
“We may be little, but we are mighty and we are quick,” Andrea Lasher said. “(Being) quick makes a lot of difference on defense.”
“They made a lot of great digs,” Kelly said. “Other teams didn’t make those digs on us.”
Still, Ford City needed to rally. After the Sabers won the second set, 25-20, to even the match, Thomas Jefferson retook the lead with a 25-19 victory in the third set.
A late 8-0 run late in the fourth set, highlighted by two service aces by Kenzie Lasher, helped the Sabers win 25-16 and tie the match again.
Ford City never trailed in the fifth set, leading by as many as four points and overcoming a Thomas Jefferson rally that tied the set at 13. A TJ pass sailed long to give the Sabers the lead, and they clinched the title when Blair Willyard and Tyree Freeman combined on a block.
“I was so happy,” Justyne Lasher said. “I didn’t know whether to cheer or cry. It was just a lot of emotions.”
Ford City advances to the PIAA tournament, where the Sabers will play the second-place team from District 10 in the first round Tuesday night at a time and site to be determined.