Kittanning volleyball sets sights on postseason success
It has been the same script in recent years for Kittanning girls volleyball: Reach the playoffs, win a preliminary-round game, lose to a top-four seed in the first round.
The Wildcats aim to break that pattern this season by advancing farther in the WPIAL playoffs, and the easiest way for them to reach that goal will be to avoid the preliminary round with a strong regular season in Section 3-AA.
Defending section champ Indiana is expected to be the top team again, but after coming close last year, Kittanning hopes this is the year it can move out of second place.
“Hopefully, we're contenders again for the section title. We went five (sets) with Indiana last year, so it would be nice to be competitive again,” Kittanning coach Kara Grafton said. “Once we can clear that hurdle, other avenues will open up, and we won't play a WPIAL champ or a state champ in the first round.”
The Wildcats are led by a trio of senior players — outside hitter Terra Schall, outside hitter Kirsten Wolfe and middle hitter Megan Cloak — and after having been with the team during its run of playoff appearances, they hope their senior year yields their deepest playoff run.
“We have to make the playoffs before we can win those games, but it is frustrating to play the top team right after the preliminary round,” Schall said. “We still have to focus on making the playoffs and winning (section) games first, but going farther is definitely our goal.”
Junior Taylor Wright will run the Kittanning offense from her setter position, and fellow junior Maggie McCanna brings two years of varsity experience as a defensive specialist to the lineup. Kittanning also will have a deep bench to draw upon in its quest for a fifth straight playoff appearance.
“There have been a lot of girls stepping up,” Grafton said. “They've been working hard in the summer and playing a lot. All the girls have been very dedicated, so I'm positive going into the season.”
As the case has been under Grafton, Kittanning's strongest suit appears to be its defense. The coach said the team's blocking and positioning on the court has been good ahead of its first regular-season action Saturday at the Northern Cambria Tournament.
Though the team doesn't start section play until Sept. 10, its second section match on Sept. 12 is its home meeting with Indiana, which has the Wildcats working hard to be ready and entering that match with the right mindset.
“We're working hard on keeping every ball up, and we're getting a lot better at communicating. We're also doing better at placing the ball, which our coach really emphasizes,” Schall said.
“It will definitely be better this weekend playing than practicing. There's nothing better to get you ready than those game situations. (Indiana) is a good team, so we'll have to play our best when we play them.”