CARLISLE — It started with a brief conversation between teammates.
It ended with the biggest celebration of the year for the West York players, coaches and managers.
The West York girls’ volleyball players can call themselves the state champions.
“This is just incredible,” Julia Rill said moments after earning the game-winning kill in a 25-22, 25-15, 25-20 sweep of District 10 champion Warren in the PIAA Class 3-A title game at Cumberland Valley High School Saturday afternoon.
With the Bulldogs just one point away from their first-ever state title, Rill had a brief discussion with setter Taylor Morley.
“Before that play started I said: ‘Taylor, this is it,’” Rill said. “This is going to be it. We’re going to finally make it. And then it just happened.”
After the Dragons returned the West York serve over the net, Kambrie Hepler, the West York libero, passed the ball to Morley, who set the ball to the opposite side where Rill was gearing up to hit. The 2018 York-Adams Division II Player of the Year slammed the ball off the Warren blocker before it hit the floor.
Rill didn’t know what to do, so she just kind of dove to the floor as her teammates joined her in a mass celebration near the CV logo at midcourt.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Rill said. “I was just so excited.”
A standout performance: That might have been the only time all day that the Bulldogs (28-1) were caught off-guard. The West York girls had an answer for every Dragons rally all match long.
The Bulldog defense was digging up seemingly every ball, the attackers were finding the floor and the block and service games were also strong.
All in all, it left Warren coach Mike Dolan impressed.
“They were making digs on pretty much everything we did,” Dolan said after his team finished its season at 21-1. “I think you have to really maximize the opportunities that you get and I don’t think we were able to do that tonight.”
How it happened: The Bulldogs certainly did. After taking a 4-3 lead in Set 1, the West York girls gave up six-straight points to fall behind 9-4. That forced an early timeout by WY coach Joe Ramp.
“I told them to just calm down,” Ramp said. “Don’t worry about the crowd noise. It’s still a volleyball court. You just go out there and play and they did.”
Ramp’s squad responded strongly with a big run.
After winning the point after the timeout, Gianna Krinock served four-straight points to even the match at 9-9.
“We just go out there and tie the game up,” Ramp said. “And that’s exactly what this team is capable of doing.”
After a brief side-out, the West York girls reeled off five-straight points to take a 14-10 lead.
The Warren girls, however, responded back with a six-point run to go up by two (16-14). But the Bulldogs rallied back with five-straight points of their own to finally take the lead for good at 19-16.
The Dragons would only lead briefly in Set 2. After falling behind 6-4 early on, the Bulldogs reeled off eight points in a row to claim the lead for good.
Ditto for Set 3. After Warren took a 6-5 lead, the West York girls scored the next two points. The Dragons rallied back to take their final advantage of the night (11-10), but the Bulldogs scored the next four points to take control.
Winning as a team: For Ramp, the best part about his championship squad was not Rill, who led the team with 12 kills. Nor was it Tesia Thomas, who finished with 11 kills. Nor was it Morley, who dished out 30 assists.
It was that the West York girls won the state title in the same fashion in which they celebrated it — as a team.
“This is a truly talented group,” Ramp said. “And they do play for one another. There’s not a He-Man or a Superwoman on this team. Everybody has to perform for us to win.”
Bowser gets clutch points: Perhaps no one exemplified that better than senior Kiersten Bowser. Not normally one of the West York players in the spotlight, Bowser was the one who came up with a big kill to finish out Set 1 and a block to close out Set 2.
It was her only kill, and her only block, of the match, but they were certainly important.
“She can put up a monster block and shut people down,” Ramp said. “And that’s pretty much what we expect from her day-in and day-out.”
Not expecting a sweep: While the Bulldogs were confident in themselves, none of them expected to pull off a sweep against an undefeated district champion that was coming off a big win over defending 3-A champ Knoch in the semifinals.
“This whole day was really intense,” West York middle hitter Alayna Harris said. “Going into it, we really didn’t think we would win in three sets, but it was just a matter of us pushing ourselves and playing better.”
Strong service game: A big part of that was West York’s collective efforts at the service line. While the serve generated just four aces for the Bulldogs, there were just eight service errors all night.
“We were out of system with our serve-receive a lot,” Dolan said. “We definitely rely on getting the ball to let our hitters take big swings out of our serve-receive. We really were able to side-out all year long, but we struggled (tonight).”
Giving credit to coach: While neither side could claim any experience in a state-title game before, the Bulldogs certainly played like a team that had that experience. Rill gave credit to her coach for making it seem that way.
“Joe just said, ‘This is it, you have never made it this far and you have nothing to lose at this point,’” she said. “He just wanted us to give it our all and go out there and have fun.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.