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Kittanning falls to Indiana in tight match

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 11:24 p.m.
Kittanning's Emily Klingensmith (middle) tips a ball over the blocks of Natalie Cignetti and Kaitlyn Palmer during a 3-2 home loss to Indiana Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Bill West | Leader Times
Kittanning's Nellie Toy (right) tries to hit a ball around Kaitlyn Palmer during a 3-2 home loss to Indiana Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Bill West | Leader Times

A home match Thursday night provided evidence that Kittanning's girls volleyball team sits right at the edge of the WPIAL Class AA elite.

The Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) narrowly fell to perennial power and Section 3-AA frontrunner Indiana, 3-2, after leading through three games.

The loss likely erased any chance of Kittanning claiming or sharing its first section title. But to come so close to a victory over Indiana (8-2, 7-0), which has won five section titles in a row, left Kittanning with much to celebrate.

“We've been preparing for this match pretty much all season,” said Kittanning coach Kara Grafton, whose Wildcats lost, 3-0, to Indiana earlier this fall. “Taking them five games is a tremendous accomplishment for my girls.”

Haley Stapleton, Kaitlyn Palmer and Natalie Cignetti proved too effective for Indiana in the final game, as they combined for eight points during the 15-12 win.

Kittanning showed serious mettle in the match as it survived game points in the second and third sets and ultimately claimed those two, 26-24 and 28-26.

In Game 2, the Wildcats trailed, 24-22, when an Indiana unforced error and two aces by Nellie Toy turned the deficit into a one-point advantage. Then, Kirsten Wolfe won it with a kill that dribbled over the left side of the net.

An unforced Indiana error and Nicole Eckman's ace allowed Kittanning to go ahead, 26-25, during the tail end of Game 3. The Indians tied the score, but a tip by Toy and an Indiana net violation followed.

Aces appeared throughout the match for Kittanning, which served so well that Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling said her girls struggled at times to string together offense-friendly passes.

“I thought they served so aggressively, and that made an enormous difference,” Oesterling said. “I think when you can throw a team's passing rhythm off like that, you have a great chance to win.”

Eckman finished with a team-high four aces. Emily Knepshield and Toy each served three, while Terra Schall and Wolfe each had one.

Indiana showed its own strength at the service line, particularly during Game 1 and 4, 25-17 and 25-12 wins for the Indians. Stapleton finished with seven unreturned serves, while Rebecca Alman and Palmer each had five, and Casey Shoenfelt served two.

The height of Stapleton (5-foot-9), Palmer (5-8), Shoenfelt (5-8) and Cignetti (5-8) created match-up trouble for Kittanning. But when Indiana needed just one or two more points to win games, the Wildcats' defense often delivered as Eckman and Emily Klingensmith slowed kill attempts with partial blocks, and Kittanning's back-row made plays.

“We usually just find a shoulder and we try to see which way they're angled,” said Klingensmith, who had one block and five kills.

Libero Frankie Religa finished with 45 digs, while Schall had 40, and Maggie McCanna and Wolfe 27 had each.

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com.

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