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Area girls volleyball teams focus on playoffs

| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 1:16 a.m.
West Shamokin's Kelly Clowser (center) punches a ball over the net during a match at Riverview earlier this season. West Shamokin and Riverview tied for second in Section 1-A.
Kittanning's Terra Schall (right) takes a shot around the boundary antenna during a home match against Indiana earlier this season. The Lady Wildcats finished second in Section 3-AA behind Indiana.

West Shamokin girls volleyball coach Justin Nolder admits there's disappointment that no section title banner for the this season will hang on the wall in West Shamokin's gym.

But he wants his Wolves to realize they're still capable of claiming greater honors.

Back in Class A after two years of modest success in Class AA, West Shamokin (9-3, 9-3) came up short in its effort to share the Section 1 title, as it did in 2008 and '09.

The Wolves tied Riverview for second place and finished behind Greensburg Central Catholic, the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association's No. 2 Class A team. Nolder has urged the girls to strive for a potential third meeting with the Centurions, who are likely to receive the WPIAL's top seed when the pairings are announced Monday.

“I told the girls after (the second loss to Greensburg Central Catholic), it is what it is,” Nolder said. “We still have an opportunity to do something very special. It is very possible that we (West Shamokin and Greensburg Central Catholic) could end up being the last two teams left in Class A.”

West Shamokin's morale approached an apex last weekend, when the Wolves hosted an 11-team tournament that included numerous playoff-bound Class AA and A teams.

“I think we're playing our best ball right now, which is critical,” Nolder said. “There were teams that could really put the ball away on us (at the tournament), and we defended them well.”

West Shamokin's second-place split with Riverview might leave the Wolves with a tumultuous path in the playoffs.

Nolder hopes the fact that West Shamokin won the second meeting with Riverview might tilt seeding in favor of his team.

Freeport coach Tom Phillips also wants WPIAL officials follow that logic when they seed the Class AA field. Phillips' Yellowjackets (14-1, 11-1) and Mars shared the Section 4-AA title, but Freeport won the latter meeting.

Recent playoff history should help Freeport's case for a high seed. The Yellowjackets reached the finals each of the last three seasons and took home the title in 2010.

Phillips has insisted throughout the fall that this Freeport team is as talented as any he's coached. But the Yellowjackets needed time to determine which of their talents to emphasize.

“One thing we found out this year is that we're not a conventional team,” Phillips said. “We don't have two outside hitters, two middles. Almost every one of our girls can play a lot of different positions. … I saw early on this year that we could move people around and look for some matchup problems.”

Kittanning coach Kara Grafton's wish for her Wildcats (11-3, 8-2), who placed second behind Indiana in Section 3-AA, is to avoid a powerhouse. That way, the team might advance to the quarterfinals for the first time.

Each of the past three years, Kittanning placed second in its section. And each year, it received a preliminary-round game, which it won. Then came a matchup against a top-four seed.

A season ago, the Wildcats ran into top-seeded Hopewell, which won handily on its way to a WPIAL title.

Kittanning's entire starting lineup from last season returned, so there's no shortage of playoff experience.

“I can definitely see the potential to take another step for the program, especially with this core group of girls,” Grafton said. “They understand that they can play with these bigger teams, even if they're outsized.”

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