Rather than run practice, Greensburg Central Catholic girls volleyball coach Heather Meyer gave her players the day off Wednesday and afforded the Centurions time to contemplate their cathartic PIAA semifinal-round win.
Meyer wants her girls to relish what they accomplished Tuesday: GCC rallied to win a match that advanced the team to the state championship for the first time.
But she also wants them to fully regroup, because the grind-it-out style used in the semifinal might not produce gold Saturday when the Centurions meet defending PIAA Class A champ Marian Catholic in the state title match at 11 a.m. at Richland High School in Johnstown.
“They’ve given me a lot of gray hairs, but they don’t give up,” Meyer said.
GCC is the first WPIAL team to reach the PIAA finals since West Allegheny did it in Class AA in 2010. It will try to become the first state champ from the WPIAL since West Allegheny brought home gold in 2006. The last PIAA Class A winner from the WPIAL was Farrell in 2002.
More so this year than in the past, the Centurions tested their mettle in anticipation of these late-season matches. They scheduled nonsection contests against eventual WPIAL Class AA finalist Thomas Jefferson (a 3-0 win) and Class AAA quarterfinalists Norwin (a 3-0 win) and Hempfield (a 3-2 loss).
The Hempfield match, though one of the few blemishes for GCC this season, proved as instructive and emboldening as anything else the Centurions experienced during the regular season. One of the match’s games stretched to 36-34.
“No matter how you come out of a match like that, you’re better off,” Meyer said. “We really tried to push ourselves more this year and not worry as much about win-loss record.”
Such an endurance trial paid off when the Centurions went five games with Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL finals. GCC trailed 2-1 in the match before rallying with wins in the final two games.
A PIAA semifinal against District 9 champion Clarion — the team that eliminated GCC from the state playoffs each of the past two seasons, including in the 2012 semifinals — also became a matter of mental resolve for the Centurions, who trailed 2-0 before claiming the match’s final three games.
The ghosts of seasons past crept into the heads of GCC’s players. But a full collapse never followed.
“Whether it showed or not in the play, I think it was in the back of our head that (Clarion) was the one that knocked us out the last two years,” said senior outside hitter Megan Stunja, who had 10 kills in the win. “But our out-of-section matches, they really helped us being able to control ourselves in pressure situations.”
Now comes Marian Catholic, which won state titles in 2003 and 2013 and reached the finals in 2005. In the PIAA tournament, the Fillies won each of their last three matches 3-0 and did not allow an opponent to score more than 20 points in a game.
“We feel we’ve always played better against more competitive teams,” Stunja said. “We just have a drive within us to put them down and show what we have within us.”