Kittanning blanks West Mifflin in preliminary-round match
Kittanning's girls volleyball team made such quick work of its opponent Tuesday night that it had time to lounge at the nearby T.G.I. Friday's afterward.
A preliminary-round winner for the fourth consecutive year, Kittanning thumped West Mifflin, 3-0, as it prevailed by scores of 25-8, 25-9 and 25-17, at Hempfield in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. The Lady Wildcats (12-3) led the Lady Titans (10-5) for the entire first game and pulled away.
Kittanning advances to the first round, where the Lady Wildcats will travel to play No. 3 seed Mars Thursday.
“They played strong tonight, but they really shine when they play a really strong team,” Kittanning coach Kara Grafton said. “Then you can see how competitive they are.
“I hope they get the recognition they deserve (in the future), because they definitely showed they can compete with the big teams.”
Kittanning secured its first playoff win three seasons ago, when it edged South Park, 3-2. The Lady Wildcats showed gradual improvement in the seasons that followed — they beat McGuffey, 3-0, in 2010 and Washington, 3-1, in 2011.
Tuesday's performance set a new standard for playoff dominance.
Kittanning opened the match with a 7-1 run in Game 1.
It had a 13-1 run in Game 2, which ended when setter Emily Knepshield kept a ball off the floor with her foot, and the Lady Wildcats converted the save into a point.
West Mifflin managed a six-point run — the team's longest of the match — that put the Lady Titans ahead, 11-8, in Game 3. But Kittanning recovered from its momentary lapse with a kill by Terra Schall, two aces by Nicole Eckman and an unforced West Mifflin error.
“I think we've proved ourselves,” said Schall, who had 11 kills and 25 digs. “We didn't know what to expect tonight, but we knew we had to play hard and stay excited.”
Kirsten Wolfe kept up with Schall for the team lead in kills, and she also served two aces. Nellie Toy had seven kills and three aces, while Nicole Eckman registered five kills and three aces. Setter Emily Knepshield earned 31 assists and Maggie McCanna and Frankie Religa solidified the defense with 23 and 20 digs, respectively.
Kittanning's enduring confidence stood in contrast to West Mifflin's sometimes cautious play. Coach Greg Lockley believed his girls, responsible for the team's first playoff appearance, dealt with some nerves.
“(Kittanning) tended to sit back and let us make our own mistakes,” Lockley said. “At the same time, they also forced some mistakes with good defense and just keeping the ball in play.
“Still, to get to this point, I'm very proud of (West Mifflin). I have a lot of very young older players — juniors and seniors who just started playing in the past year or two.”
Kittanning can expect a significantly more experienced opponent Thursday. Mars has won its first-round match each of the past five seasons.
The Lady Wildcats will try to end a three-season streak of first-round exits.
“We think we're ready,” Schall said. “We have the talent. We just have to perform at our best.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-543-1303.