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Penn State-Fayette looking for another PSUAC title

| Friday, Oct. 26, 2012, 1:51 a.m.
The Penn State-Fayette women's volleyball team is gunning for its fifth straight PSUAC championship. Team members are (front row, from left) Emily Konter, Emily Caldwell, Laura Hefner and Abbey Tirpak; top row, coach Nancy Wheeler, Leah Ambrosini, Katlyn Salisbury, Sam Helmantoler and Janelle Cooper. Evan R. Sanders/Daily Courier

The members of the Penn State-Fayette women's volleyball team will head to University Park for the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference championship tournament this weekend.

It's a trip the Roaring Lions have become used to making. It's also a tournament they are accustomed to winning.

The Roaring Lions will be looking for their fifth consecutive PSUAC title and seventh championship in the past eight seasons.

Penn State-Fayette, the top seed, opens the tournament at 5 p.m. Sunday when it takes on Penn State-Hazleton in a semifinal match. The championship match will be played at 3 p.m. Monday.

“We're really close as a team,” Penn State-Fayette outside hitter Leah Ambrosini said.

Ambrosini, a 2008 Connellsville graduate and the Roaring Lions' lone senior, knows a thing or two about success. She is Penn State-Fayette's all-time kills leader and has 284 kills heading into this postseason.

Emily Konter has contributed to many of Ambrosini's kills. The sophomore setter finished the regular season with 664 assists.

Right side/middle hitter Janelle Cooper, middle hitter Katlyn Salisbury, outside/right side hitter Sam Helmantoler, outside hitter Emily Caldwell and defensive specialists Laura Hefner and Abbey Tirpak also have played key roles in Fayette's continued success this season.

“We may not have a lot of height, but the chemistry we have is unbeatable,” Ambrosini said.

Not only have the Roaring Lions (22-5, 16-0) been unbeatable in the conference, they also have been dominating. Penn State-Fayette has won 46 straight conference games dating to the 2010 season. This year, all 16 conference wins have come in straight sets.

“It didn't start out as a goal,” fourth-year coach Nancy Wheeler said about sweeping every conference match. “But then we started to notice it and we made it one of our goals. We fought for every point, and that helped us play to our level and keep our intensity up.”

Wheeler has won the PSUAC Coach of the Year Award each of the three previous seasons, not to mention she has guided the team to its past three conference crowns.

“I just think each year, we try to improve ourselves in some fashion,” Wheeler said, deflecting credit to the players, especially senior captain Ambrosini. “I think the main ingredient is Leah. Being a senior, she has been to the championship three times in a row, and she helps carry our team.”

The Roaring Lions are also seeded second in the United States Collegiate Athletic Conference and will compete in the USCAA tournament in November. But before that, the Roaring Lions will focus on trying to win another PSUAC title.

For Ambrosini, winning a fourth conference championship would be unforgettable.

“I think it is something that I will carry with me forever,” Ambrosini said. “I'll remember all of the great experiences I've had here.”

Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and the Roaring Lions understand that the title won't just be handed to them.

“I don't think we underestimate any team,” Ambrosini said.

Wheeler also believes her team will be locked in on the competition.

“I don't think we get overconfident,” Wheeler said. “Every match is important, and you can't bypass any team because you never know what can happen.”

Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com or 724-626-3534.

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