West Shamokin volleyball team familiar with state tournament foes
The act of competing for a PIAA Class A girls volleyball title is new to all but one of West Shamokin's players.
The opposition that lines the path to the final, however, is quite familiar to the Wolves.
Participation in three regular-season tournaments exposed West Shamokin to almost every one of the seven teams that sit on its half of the statewide bracket, which basically is split into east and west sides. The Wolves begin PIAA play with a first-round match at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Cochranton High School against District 10 champion Maplewood, which, like West Shamokin, participated in the Clarion Area tournament in late September.
“When the names (of potential PIAA opponents) came up, it was like, ‘Oh yeah, we've seen them,' ” coach Justin Nolder said. “So we have put ourselves in a position to see almost every one of them. Now we get a chance to play them when it matters.”
The Class A champions of District 9 (Clarion), District 6 (Penns Manor) and the WPIAL (Greensburg Central Catholic) competed in the tournament hosted by West Shamokin in early October — Clarion defeated Greensburg Central Catholic in the finals.
Another PIAA qualifier, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the WPIAL's fourth-place finisher, lost to the Wolves in the finals of its own tournament Oct. 20.
Among the teams on the west half the bracket, only WPIAL runner-up Bishop Canevin, a potential quarterfinal-round opponent, and District 9 runner-up Port Allegany, a possible semifinal-round foe, did not cross paths with West Shamokin.
West Shamokin held its own against the elite competition earlier in the year. Nolder needs his girls to believe they not only belong among the state's best, but that they're capable of beating such talent.
“If rankings were to come out right now, we'd be right in the thick of things,” Nolder said. “Unfortunately, rankings don't mean anything. We have to turn those rankings into results.”
Confidence has steadily increased for West Shamokin since its win over Section 1-A rival Riverview on Oct. 2. The Wolves surged to tie for second in the section and fared well in late-season tournaments, most notably the OLSH competition that occurred just before the start of the playoffs.
“We didn't have that team bond (early on),” junior libero Kristen Templeton said. “I think when we played Riverview that second time, we really clicked.”
Only senior Jill Glover has previously started for a PIAA-qualifying team. The rest of the Wolves are ready to see how they stack up against the best in the state.
“I think we just all need to believe we can do it,” junior Kelly Clowser said.
Three losses to Greensburg Central Catholic — two in the regular season and one in the WPIAL semifinals — weigh on the minds of West Shamokin. But the Lady Wolves became more optimistic about their chances of competing at the PIAA level after their most recent run-in with the Centurions.
“We were keeping up with them,” junior Alecia Calhoun said. “We didn't get down on ourselves.”
Mood management is the key, according to senior setter Jen Notto. She does not struggle with nerves or self-doubt, and she hopes to spread her Zen state to Calhoun and junior Amanda Wensel, the team's two nervy middle hitters.
“I try to pick them up because they get down on themselves,” Notto said.
Wensel acknowledged a run in the PIAA tournaments hinges on the Lady Wolves' ability to find a balance between self-confident and self-critical.
Said Calhoun: “I think if we made it this far, we can keep going.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.