Fresh off WPIAL title win, Ford City preps for PIAA tournament
For Ford City’s players, the celebration of their first WPIAL Class AA volleyball championship already has ended.
Two days after winning the title with a 3-2 defeat of Thomas Jefferson in the final, the Sabers were back in practice to prepare for their PIAA Class AA first-round matchup with District 10 runner-up Corry at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny High School.
It will be the first foray into the state playoffs for the Sabers (18-1), who have turned their focus toward the goal of a state title before ever taking time to reflect on their WPIAL win.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to be settled down from winning on Saturday. I still can’t believe it happened,” Ford City senior outside hitter Blair Willyard said. “Right now, we’re practicing on the things we need to. We know (Corry has) a big girl, so we need to practice on our play in the middle and working on hitting our spots.”
Ford City’s ability to quickly move on to the next match has been a major asset after emotional wins over Kittanning, Seton-La Salle and WPIAL Class AA No. 1 Freeport during the last three weeks.
The Sabers’ lack of state playoff experience shouldn’t be a factor, either, as Corry (13-2) also is a first-time PIAA qualifier. The Beavers knocked off perennial power General McLane in the D-10 semifinals 3-2, before losing in the final to 2013 state finalist and 2012 champ Fort LeBoeuf, 3-0.
What will be a factor is the player Willyard referenced, Corry’s 6-foot-2 senior middle/outside hitter Brooklyn Goodsel.
A Ball State recruit and 2013 all-state selection, Goodsel has nearly half of her team’s kills with 505 on the season. She will test a Ford City defense that already has survived one all-state hitter this postseason, Freeport junior Zoe Pawlak.
“I really don’t think we have that much pressure on us,” Ford City freshman libero Kenzie Lasher said. “There’s some pressure, but we know we just have to go out and give it our all. We have to keep working as a team, and we’ll see how it ends up.”
The team-first attitude has been Ford City’s hallmark all season, along with its ability to stay relaxed in big moments.
Whether the players are making each other laugh while trailing by a set in the semifinal to Freeport or playfully dancing to music played during a timeout in their first-round match against Central Valley, the Sabers have managed to project a loose demeanor even when they do feel some pressure.
“I think all the emotions are there. We’re nervous. We’re excited. We’re confident,” Willyard said. “Our attitude is to go in there, do the best we can do and hope for the best if we do that.”
The Sabers’ confidence has been building ever since bouncing back from their only loss of the year, a 3-2 defeat on the road at Derry on Sept. 16.
Since then, the team completed a season sweep of perennial power West Shamokin, earned a payback win against Derry and won the aforementioned semifinal against Freeport, which has Ford City confident that it can play with any team it faces in this year’s state tournament.
“I think we have to just keep playing how we have. We’re going to play our hearts out, and hopefully, it ends up good,” Kenzie Lasher said.