Experience leads York Catholic girls' volleyball team to victory, District 3 title berth

  • York Catholic defeated Trinity 3-1 (25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 25-9) on Thursday night.
  • Senior libero McKenna Walker led the Irish with 30 digs.
  • The Irish will play in the District 3 Class 2-A title game against Delone Catholic on Saturday.
York Catholic libero McKenna Walker digs deep to return a Delone Catholic serve in a match earlier this season. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Everything in the postseason is a little bit harder.

The serves are a little bit faster.

The blocks are a little bit stronger.

The spikes are a little bit harder.

While every team has different philosophies on how to overcome the playoff pressure, every coach agrees that experience is a key factor.

York Catholic was the more experienced team in the District 3 Class 2-A semifinals Thursday night, when the Fighting Irish defeated Trinity 3-1 to advance to the championship match on Saturday.

“We have seven seniors, and they’re doing such a fantastic job leading,” York Catholic head coach Phil Autrey said. “They’re making sure the girls are mentally ready and engaged. The seniors are doing such a good job in practice.”

Senior leadership: Several senior leaders stepped up for the top-seeded Irish (18-2) in their 25-19, 23-25, 25-20, 25-9 victory over the No. 4-seeded Shamrocks (18-5). Libero McKenna Walker led the team in digs with 30, while outside hitter Bella Kepner tallied 12 kills and 19 digs. Setter Megan Daugherty totaled 29 assists.

“McKenna, Bella and Megan Daugherty all played as freshmen,” Autrey said. “That kind of experience (helps). They know what it feels like to play in district games. This will be their fourth district title game they get to play in. You can’t really ask for more out of a crew than that.”

Walker said the senior class’ success is a testament to the hard work and camaraderie the squad has.

“We’ve been working since my freshman year,” Walker said. “We have the experience. The senior class is so close, and all seven of us play a different role.”

Delone Catholic at York Catholic girls' volleyball, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Autrey said Walker was her usual self on Thursday, making digs that are rare to see out of a high school player.

“She is really hard on herself, and I have to remind her to not think about every point and not to be perfect,” Autrey said. “She made some really great digs that I don’t know if anyone else in this county or in District 3 can make.”

Title match vs. Delone: The Irish will play two-time defending District 3 2-A champion Delone Catholic in the Class 2-A final at 3 p.m. Saturday at Central York High School. York Catholic last won a district title in 2015 — the current senior class’ freshman season — in Class 1-A. The winner of Saturday's 2-A title match will advance to the state playoffs. The loser's season will be over.

Delone volleyball team rallies for district win

“We need to go in there relaxed,” Autrey said. “We need to do what we’ve done all season and not worry that Delone has been the team who has come out of this district. We’re confident we can win that match on Saturday.”

Delone and York Catholic shared the York-Adams Division III title this season and split their two regular-season matches. Delone is ranked No. 7 in the state in 2-A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. York Catholic is ranked 10th.

Delone earned its berth in the title match by rallying for a 3-2 win over Lancaster Mennonite in the other semifinal on Thursday.

York Catholic takes early lead: The Irish took a 10-3 lead in the first set in the match at Central York High School. Trinity rallied with a five-point run to get back into the set, but the Irish staved off a comeback and didn’t allow the Shamrocks to take a lead in the set.

Trinity took the second set after winning five straight points to take a 21-19 lead. Both squads went back and forth in the set, but York Catholic couldn’t gain any momentum.

“We couldn’t get a run going,” Autrey said. “Trinity is a really good team. They were able to take advantage of our errors, and we weren’t able to close out that set.”

Hope Leavy-Gaskins of York Cathoic smacks the ball past Molly Raville of Delone Catholic during game one in a match earlier this season. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Irish answer in third set: The Irish gained traction in the third set with an 8-0 run to take a 10-4 lead. The Irish, led by Hope Leavy-Gaskins’ spikes and Grace Shelley’s blocks, went on another run late in the set to win 25-20. Leavy-Gaskins tallied nine kills, while Shelley totaled six.

“We definitely got our momentum at the end of the third game,” Walker said. “We just pushed. At the beginning of the fourth game, we went on that run.”

Autrey said junior outside hitter Julia Yanick played a crucial role in the victory with eight kills off the bench.

“Julia did phenomenally well,” Autrey said. “She’s one of those kids who, as an undersized outside hitter, has to be really smart. She was just so mentally engaged in the game today. They couldn’t stop her. I was happy she got the ball as much as she did.”

Dominant fourth set: With their backs up against the walls in the fourth set, the Shamrocks couldn’t slow down the Irish, who won it 25-9 to advance to the finals.

“I think the fact that we came in prepared to play a long match helped,” Autrey said. “We played Trinity earlier in the season, and we won in three. But the girls had the mindset of not expecting that to happen. With the pressure on up 2-1, the girls have played so much together that the setback made the drive harder. We played error-free volleyball in that fourth game.”

Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at jmeyer@yorkdispatch.com