South Fayette girls volleyball seniors ‘go down swinging’
Trailing two games to none against Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals, it would have been easy for the South Fayette girls volleyball team to call it a season.
South Fayette, the No. 7 seed, had already lost to the second-seeded Jaguars twice during the regular season, 3-0 and 3-1, so history was not on its side.
But instead of throwing in the towel, the team, led by seniors Carly Seibel, Amanda Henry, Melinda Wells and Lauren Crites, decided to fight back.
South Fayette took the third game 26-24, but fell into a 19-8 deficit in Game 4. Again facing the brink of defeat, the Lions went on a 17-3 run to force a deciding fifth game.
Thomas Jefferson ended up winning the fifth game 15-11, ending the Lions’ season.
On any normal day, South Fayette coach Scott Sundgren wouldn’t have taken too kindly to the loss. But he couldn’t help but be proud of the way his girls refused to quit.
“I admit it, I’m a little nuts on the bench, and I’m a little crazy, but it’s because I’m really invested,” Sundgren said. “I’m one of those guys that is more upset with losing than I am happy with winning.
“But If I’m going to lose a match, that’s not a bad way to lose it — go down swinging and fighting ‘til the end.”
The Lions finished the regular season at 10-4, losing twice to the Jaguars (14-0) and twice to Seton-La Salle (12-2), and qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season.
With the way the seniors brought the team together this year, Sundgren couldn’t have asked more out of them, he said.
“They did pretty much anything you can ask of a team,” Sundgren said. “To get that much fight from a team, to come back from being down in a match, I really have to give them credit for how much they fought.”
Partly due to a series of mid season injuries, players from every grade got a chance to play, setting up the Lions for sustained success after this group of seniors moves on.
“I changed the lineup several times throughout the season, and the girls really responded well,” Sundgren said. “I was able to make changes in the lineup, and it didnt bother them at all, which is really huge for girls. Over the years, they haven’t adapted as quickly as we did this year.”
But preparing for the future is about more than just improving skills. The seniors left behind something that the younger players can’t learn from practice.
“The four seniors who are leaving left the mark of what fighting and playing hard looks like, and the younger girls can benefit from that,” Sundgren said. “They can say this is what heart and what pride looks like.”
Each of the seniors were so equally respected that the team had trouble picking captains to start the year. Ultimately, the Lions decided to name all four seniors as captains, a decision that Sundgren questioned at the time, he said.
“Usually that doesn’t work very well,” Sundgren said. “It will sometimes lead to problems, but they led the team very well and created friendships with the younger kids. They didn’t argue with each other at all and got along really well.”
The seniors were forced to try some new things throughout their careers, and some even shifted positions as seniors.
Kreitz moved to middle hitter after playing outside hitter as a junior, and Henry, another former outside hitter, was moved to right-side hitter.
A second year in the setter position helped Wells to flourish, and Seibel had a tremendous season as the libero.
After an injury forced her to miss part of last season, Seibel returned healthy to play the best volleyball of her career, especially defensively, Sundgren said.
“I’m a big believer that a strong defense is always going to win you matches,” he said. “She was the backbone of our defense. She was outstanding.”
At the end of a season, it’s easy for a coach to regret some of his decisions in hindsight, but not this year, Sundgren said.
“When you really look at it, we found the best group,” Sundgren said. “We were able to get the kids in and out with different role players off the bench, and even some freshmen who could go in for the starters.”