The Derry Area girls’ volleyball team was just a play or two away from claiming victory during Thursday’s WPIAL Class 2A play-in round against Neshannock.
It’s hard not to wonder if the outcome would have been different if not for a three-week pause for Derry Area as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases within the school district. Playing for the first time in 21 days, the No. 16-seeded Lady Trojans came up just short in the maximum five games, falling 3-2, against the No. 17 Lady Lancers.
“It was a tight match from the beginning,” Derry Area head coach Brock Smith said. “It ultimately comes down to the fact that we had (just) three days of practice — we got the rust off, but we didn’t quite get it all off.”
That was evident early, as Neshannock captured the first two games, 26-24 and 25-18 for the early 2-0 advantage. But Derry Area battled back, outlasting Neshannock, 25-21 and 25-22, before the Lady Lancers finished off the match with a 15-13 victory.
The Lady Trojans initially expected to host the match on Tuesday, but a last-minute change shifted the bout to Thursday at North Catholic High School in Cranberry Township. As a result of the outcome, the Lady Lancers had to immediately face No. 1 North Catholic, as the host rolled to a 3-0 victory.
After Neshannock captured the first two sets against Derry Area, the Lady Trojans, playing in the postseason for the 20th straight year, made a few minor adjustments. Perhaps more significantly, though, they showed the fight needed to claw back into the match and force a decisive fifth set.
“It was nice to see them come out and say “we’re not going to just take this one lying down,”’ Smith explained, noting that his squad went to five sets on three occasions during the regular season, as well. “It demonstrates to me that even though they are a young team, they are a little more seasoned than they are on paper.”
That fifth set was a back-and-forth clash, and the difference between the teams was a razor-thin margin.
“We made a few more errors than they did. We just made errors at the wrong time,” Smith lamented.
Among the top performers for Derry Area on Thursday were Makenzie Eades and Tiana Moracco, who each had seven kills, while the latter also contributed three aces.
Kiley Latshaw complimented that duo with six kills of her own, and she drew the praise of her coach.
“She played probably her best game of the year, hitting significant shots, making some last-minute saves, putting smart shots in play,” Smith said of the senior.
Sydney Williams, one of two players who had starting experience prior to this season, provided a team-leading 27 digs, while senior Lauren Angus added a dozen digs. Megan Baker helped orchestrate the offense with 27 assists, as well.
While the Lady Trojans concluded their abbreviated campaign at 5-5, Derry Area boasted a 5-3 mark in section play before the final five matches of the regular season were wiped out. That pause came at a bad time for a team that Smith thought was beginning to round into form.
As expected, trying to pick up where they left off was not an easy task.
“We were in rhythm (before the layoff). We were doing much better in consistently serving, and there was a flow that we had,” Smith explained. “And we never built back into that with one match.”
For the five seniors — Latshaw and Angus, as well as Alanna Meloy, Alyssa Berkhimer, and Claire Dillon — their careers concluded in heartbreaking fashion.
That group, which is smaller than most senior classes for Smith, was best summed up by two adjectives — tenacious and resilient.
“You’re going to learn lessons in life all the time,” Smith said of his message to the seniors. “But the one thing that you make me really proud about was the fact that everything that was thrown at you this year, (you) rolled with the punches and continued to fight on.”
Meanwhile, for the players who will return to form the foundation of the team in 2021 and beyond, this season also showed room for improvement.
“We need to become physically stronger for next season,” Smith explained. “So that’s something that we’re going to have to try to implement to make us a better team next year.”