MECHANICSBURG — It usually takes a young team a little time to find its legs and get going.
For the York Catholic girls' volleyball squad, that time was pretty much the entire regular season.
Battling high-level teams such as Hanover, Bermudian Springs, Berks Catholic, Trinity and Delone Catholic wasn't great for the team's overall record. But the experience of playing those outfits definitely has proven invaluable come playoff time.
Fresh off their first District 3 title since 2007 last Saturday, the Irish took to the court at Cumberland Valley against District 2 champion Blue Ridge Tuesday night in a PIAA Class A opening-round contest. While they didn't have any real experience at the state level, the York Catholic girls felt and played confidently from the start.
After rolling to a victory in Game 1, the Irish saw the Raiders rebound from two game-points in Game 2 to even up the match. Facing a pivotal moment, with their playoff lives at stake, the York Catholic girls dusted themselves off and claimed the final two games to advance.
With their 25-19, 24-26, 25-14, 25-13 triumph, the Irish earned a Saturday trip to the state quarterfinals opposite District 5 champion North Star, which swept Bishop Carroll in another opening-round match Tuesday.
"We've come out really strong the past few games," York Catholic setter McKenna Walker said. "In our (regular) season, we really hadn't done that. But so far we've been good."
With just three seniors on the roster, the Irish have juniors, sophomores and freshmen playing a lot of pivotal points. That youth may have caused some issues during a rigorous regular season, but it's paying off in the playoffs.
"It says a lot about the young kids," York Catholic coach Phillip Autrey said. "They've really responded to everything that we've asked them to do, which is just be volleyball players. Don't worry about making mistakes and don't worry if you don't have the experience. That's why we practice."
One of the youngest of Autrey's bunch is Walker, a freshman, who inherited the setter position a little past the midway point of her team's season. Walker has been able to get her team to play at a faster pace than their opposition during the postseason.
That turnaround was certainly not the case against powers such as Berks Catholic and Delone, but the teams the Irish have played so far this postseason haven't been able to catch up.
"The fact that we were able to see that type of pace, which is the kind of pace that we're trying to emulate, when we play against some of these smaller schools, it helps us," Autrey said. "We're never the fast-paced team when we're up against Delone and Hanover and Bermudian. So it's real helpful for our girls."
While setters are typically known best as ball distributors, Walker brings a bit more to the table.
"(She) knows how to compete," Autrey said. "In volleyball, because it's such a long game to 25, you have to have someone out there who is setting that is just going to go after every ball. In the beginning of the year, her hands were young and inexperienced, but I just kept telling her that she was getting to more balls than most setters would. Now she's to the point where her hands are catching up to the rest of her game."
As good as the Irish felt after the match, they weren't spared a few scary moments vs. Blue Ridge. Leading 24-22 in Game 2, the Raiders used a 4-0 run to rally back into the match. Did that cause Autrey to bite on his fingernails a little bit? Not really.
"The girls have been doing such a great job over the past month of just forgetting about it and moving on to the next play, the next point, the next game," he said.
Walker finished with 27 assists, eight of which went to junior Izzy Johnson for kills. Sophomore Emily Hoffman finished with seven kills, while both junior Rachel Shelley and freshman Bella Kepner finished with six apiece.
OTHER PIAA GIRLS' VOLLEYBALL
Central York 3, Delaware Valley 0: At North Pocono High, the Panthers made quick work of the Warriors in a PIAA AAA first-round match, 25-13, 25-8, 25-20.
Central dominated at the net, led by Emily Poole and Kamryn Stambaugh. Poole led all players with 15 kills, while Stambaugh was just behind her with 10. In total, the Panthers finished the match with 42 kills, with Allison Rift chipping in with an eight-kill performance.
Emma Saxton set up the offense nicely, passing for 34 assists. On the defensive side of the ball, Ashely Gallagher, Hannah Rishel and Laura Fahs each had a team-high eight digs, while Karah Slow came up with seven.
District 3-AAA runner-up Central moves onto the quarterfinals on Saturday, when it will face Cumberland Valley, the third-place team from District 3. The Eagles won their first-round match over District 1-AAA champ Bishop Shanahan, 3-1. Central edged CV in the District 3-AAA semifinals, 3-2.
Delone Catholic 3, Archbishop Wood 0: At Philadelphia, the Squirettes advanced to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AA tournament with a 25-16, 25-15, 25-20 victory over the Vikings.
Delone got strong defensive play from Katie Laughman, Lexi Shanabrook and Karigen Emig. Shanabrook led all players with 17 digs, followed by Laughman's 11-dig performance, while Emig came up with eight. Laughman also passed for 39 assists, while Amber Johnson, Sydney Dockins and Sarah Senft each finished with nine kills.
District 3-AA runner-up Delone will now face District 1-AA champ Villa Maria Academy in Saturday's quarterfinals. The Hurricanes advanced in the tournament with a four-game win over Allentown Central Catholic, 25-11, 16-25, 25-16, 25-1.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.