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Connellsville volleyball falls to Shaler in WPIAL playoff opener

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 12:09 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Connellsville's Saiah Mickens (23) attempts to get the ball over the net and past Shaler's Hannah Bradford (52) in the second set of Connellsville's match against Shaler on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013.

A fast start did not lead to a strong finish for the Connellsville girls volleyball team in Wednesday's WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game against host Shaler.

The Falcons jumped out to big leads in the first and third sets, but each time, failed to close as the Titans produced big rallies to win in straight sets 26-24, 25-13, 25-18.

The Titans face Penn-Trafford in a quarterfinal match Tuesday.

“We've grown up a lot this year, and the team has matured, and they've learned that if we can keep our composure, we can come back,” Shaler coach Kris Ruppert said. “We tend to start slow, and it takes a little while to get the feel of the other team, especially a team we haven't played before. We knew they were scrappy on defense, and we have a lot of respect for Connellsville.”

Connellsville, the third-place team from Section 2-AAA, proved to be a tough challenge for the Section 4-AAA champion Titans (15-2). The Falcons (11-5) set the tone early with kills by Abbie Siecinski and Maria Merendino that helped stake Connellsville to an 18-11 lead in the first set.

That's when things started to unravel for the Falcons, and Shaler made the first of its comebacks.

Big serves by Hannah Bradford and a couple of kills by Liz Kline allowed the Titans to storm back. It was a momentum-building victory for the Titans and a deflating loss for the Falcons.

“I don't think we gave up,” Connellsville coach Casey O'Brien said. “We went out in the second game, and I thought we would be all right, but we just couldn't get any rhythm. We got predictable, and when you get predictable, it's easy to defend.”

The Falcons never were in the second set as Shaler dominated to take a 2-0 lead.

Annie Bozzo led the Titans with 10 kills and 11 blocks. Natalie Pilewski contributed 17 assists, and Kline had a pair of aces.

Despite trailing 2-0, the Falcons came out strong in the third set as they looked to extend the match.

Isabella Sigado helped Connellsville take a 16-8 lead. But again, Shaler rallied.

This time, the Titans used a 17-2 run to finish the match.

“When we came out in the third, we tried some different matchups, and it seemed to be working,” O'Brien said. “But I don't know if we got comfortable and started thinking about the fourth set, but the same things started happening again.”

The Falcons had strong efforts from Emma Bell and Maria Merendino, who each had nine digs. Merendino added six kills. Emily Means had 14 assists, and Megan Kirkpatrick hit four kills.

“I always try to keep it in the big perspective,” O'Brien said. “Last year, they didn't make the playoffs, so this shows what they can do in the future. Now, it's about setting a standard and figuring out much they want to get out of next year.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at jblack@tribweb.com.

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