For a team that has sought to make a name for itself during its first year in the WPIAL, the Ligonier Valley girls volleyball team had the chance to raise plenty of eyebrows by winning the opening set against heavily-favored host Ellwood City during the opening round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs on Thursday.

The No. 15-seeded Lady Rams held an 18-10 lead against the second-seeded Lady Wolverines in the WPIAL Class 2A first round, but Ligonier Valley could not finish it out. Ellwood City rallied to win the set, and then cruised to a sweep to eliminate the Lady Rams from the postseason.

Undefeated Ellwood City prevailed 25-23, 25-13, 25-19 for the three-game sweep. The Lady Rams, who ousted Southmoreland 3-1 during the play-in round earlier this week, conclude their inaugural campaign in the WPIAL with a 9-5 record.

“Our girls came out ready to play and they jumped to an early lead, but Ellwood City ... they’re a great team and they fought their way back into it,” Ligonier Valley head coach Emily Daugherty explained. “I think it was a little discouraging for the girls going into the second set, knowing they should’ve won that one, and they let it slip away from them.”

Ligonier Valley’s eight-point edge was the high-water mark of the first set, as a 9-2 run by Ellwood City pulled the host to within one, at 20-19. Although the Lady Rams pulled ahead, 23-21, the Lady Wolverines quickly regained momentum, winning the final four points to claim the set.

Subsequently, the Lady Rams trailed for most of the final two sets. In the second game, the Lady Wolverines held just a one-point lead at 6-5, but extended that to five, and later a 10-point advantage, at 19-9.

In the final set, Ellwood City never trailed, as the Lady Wolverines built an early 10-4 lead, and although the Lady Rams later trimmed into an eight-point deficit, it wasn’t enough to extend the match.

Ellwood City (15-0) relied upon its hitters to overwhelm the Lady Rams at the net, but the Lady Wolverines balanced brains with brawn, according to Daugherty.

“They’re a very smart team,” she noted.

The Lady Wolverines advanced to the quarterfinals for the second straight year, and will host No. 7 Serra Catholic on Monday.

While Ligonier Valley did not have the outcome it had hoped for, the Lady Rams continued to show their fight until the final point was decided.

“As long as they give me everything that they have, at the end of the night, we’re not going to be mad about it,” Daugherty explained.

Junior Haley Stormer paced the Lady Rams with eight kills, and she added a pair of aces. Her play was a bright spot for Ligonier Valley, as expected.

“She always comes out strong, and is somebody that we know is going to have a good game,” Daugherty said of her middle hitter.

Additionally, sophomore middle hitter Lizzy Crissman tallied five kills and three blocks, while senior setter Bella Vargulish contributed 17 assists, four aces, and three blocks.

Vargulish, along with classmates outside hitter Kailey Johnston and defensive specialist Haylee Oates, concluded their high school volleyball careers on Thursday, but they were integral to the historic transition for the team.

“They are a great group of girls, and great leaders. They’re truly going to be missed,” Daugherty said. “They were a big part of this team and the reason why this team succeeded this year, on and off the court.”

And while the Lady Rams could not shake up the entire bracket with the upset win, qualifying for the postseason, and winning a playoff match certainly meant that the team accomplished its biggest objective this season.

“Going into the WPIAL, our whole goal was we wanted to make a name for our program. I think we did that,” Daugherty said. “We showed that we can compete at this level.”

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