Deer Lakes volleyball wins PIAA opener over Forest HIlls
A nearly two-hour bus ride east to Penn Cambria on Tuesday had Deer Lakes boys volleyball coach Brady Schuller wondering how his team would start its PIAA Class AA first-round contest against Forest Hills.
But Schuller's fears quickly were laid to rest as the Lancers came out strong in Game 1, grabbed a 25-19 victory and went on to post a three-game sweep of the District 6 champion.
“I thought we might start off slow, but they embraced the long ride, came out and warmed up well, got ready to go and took care of business,” Schuller said. “You win that first one, and you get momentum on your side.”
Deer Lakes carried the momentum from the Game 1 victory and rolled in Game 2, 25-8.
Game 3 was tied at 14, but the Lancers rattled off four straight points to seize control en route to a 25-18 triumph.
Deer Lakes rebounded from its 3-0 loss to Beaver County Christian in the WPIAL championship match.
“It was tough losing in the WPIAL championship, but we just had to bounce back and forget about it,” junior outside hitter Dan Hutchinson said.
“We were really excited to come back and have another shot in the state playoffs.”
Hutchinson and his teammates were a little surprised they were able to sweep Forest Hills, which unseated four-time District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle to earn the spot at states.
“We saw them at the Derry Tournament, and we knew they had a great player in (senior hitter Garrett Donoughe),” Hutchinson said. “We were definitely cautious. We knew we had to play well. We worked on a few things in practice (after the WPIAL title game), and it paid off.”
The win moved Deer Lakes past the PIAA first round for the first time since 2011, the year it brought home the state championship. The Lancers will play again Saturday against Cochranton at a site and time to be determined.
When Deer Lakes' match ended Tuesday, Derry's match with District 10 champion Cochranton was just beginning. Schuller, at the time, said it didn't matter who they would play in the quarterfinals. The fact they were one of the final eight in Class AA was the important statistic.
Deer Lakes' victory marked the fifth straight year the WPIAL AA runner-up defeated the District 6 champ in the PIAA first-round.
Ambridge toppled Bishop Guilfoyle last year on its way to the state-championship match.
“We had a really nice season,” Forest Hills coach Jason Layman said. “We had a little bit of jitters tonight, and it was tough to come back from that. We had good senior leadership all season. Tonight just wasn't our night. (Deer Lakes) played really good defense tonight, and it showed in the outcome.”
Schuller said the team defense, which he said was a factor in the loss to BCC last week, was shored up in practice, and he echoed Layman's assessment of it being a key to the team's win over Forest Hills.
A Forest Hills serve that went wide put Deer Lakes ahead 15-14 in Game 3. Hutchinson capped the Lancers' four-point run with an ace.
The 18-14 deficit forced Layman to call a timeout.
“We weren't paying attention to our serving,” Schuller said. “We were a little lax, and I told them to pick it up on the serves. They were trying not to miss their serves as opposed to serving aggressively. Serving was key to us getting that lead back.”
The Rangers got two points back quickly out of the timeout, the second on a service ace from Ryan Stohon, but Deer Lakes didn't give them much more.
A kill from junior hitter Tyler Osselborn put Deer Lakes up 22-16. A couple of points later, with junior Trevor Sutch on serve, the Lancers' block forced a Forest Hills hit to sail wide of its mark, finishing Game 3.
“This feels amazing,” Hutchinson said. “We've never been this far in our (high school) careers. We're excited. It's something new.”