It’s hard to imagine a player having an early-season volleyball match as good as York Catholic’s Hope Leavy-Gaskins had Tuesday on the school’s brand-new home floor.
Lined up against rival Delone Catholic, Leavy-Gaskins gave the large, boisterous crowd at the Fighting Irish gym a lot to cheer about.
The junior was a dominating — sometimes overpowering — force that the Squirettes couldn’t find an answer for. Leavy-Gaskins finished with a match-high 15 kills, added eight digs and a timely block, helping York Catholic sweep Delone, 25-19, 25-17, 26-24.
The two teams are expected to battle for the York-Adams Division III title this season. They shared the division crown a season ago.
“She’s done really well,” Irish coach Phillip Autrey said of Leavy-Gaskins. “She’s been really consistent in practices and has really bought into the whole idea that we need her to score, and all the other players are supporting what we are doing.”
Amazing recovery shot: After scoring four points in the opening set, Leavy-Gaskins added six more in the second, three during a seven-point Irish run, including an amazing recovery shot.
She smashed a kill attempted that was blocked. However, the ball came right back to her and she drilled the second chance down on the Squirettes’ side of the net. Julia Yanick followed with consecutive aces and York Catholic was up 18-14. Moments later, she added two more kills in a 5-0 run that made it 23-16.
Led by Maddie Clabaugh and Brooke Lawyer, Delone overcame an early deficit to take a 14-13 third-set lead on Clabaugh’s block.
A short while later, Lawyer notched her team-high 12th kill of the match and the Squirettes led 19-17. However, the Irish rallied with four straight, capped by a Leavy-Gaskins kill for a 21-19 advantage, which extended to 23-21 on her point.
Delone rallied, squaring the set at 24, but Gabby Malone put down a kill, followed by a dig from — who else — Leavy-Gaskins that managed to land on the floor and end the match.
Grace Shelley added three kills and a couple of big blocks and Madeline Walker dished out 19 assists to go along with seven digs.
Autrey impressed with his team: Autrey likes the way his entire team played, especially considering their lack of experience.
“You can’t ask for more with how they’ve come together, especially with as many new kids in the lineup we have,” he said. “We graduated a good number of seniors that played a lot last year.
“They’ve been able to jump and say, 'This is my role.' They’ve done a great job and she (Leavy-Gaskins) has done a particularly great job.”
Of course, playing their Division III rival so early in the season is hair-raising.
“(Delone coach) Jason (Leppo) and I both said there’s good and bad parts about playing each other first,” said Autrey. “But for this team that feeds off that kind of energy where they came up through the system, instead of being afraid to play Delone they are up to the challenge.
“They know (Delone) is one of the top teams in the state. Moving into preseason, this was on their calendar and they were excited about it.”
Delone has been D-III force: Since the league went to three divisions for girls' volleyball in 2010, Delone has won at least a share of the D-III crown in each season.
"Hope played really well," Leppo said. "We didn't get a whole lot of bounces and we definitely didn't get a whole lot of calls, but that's the game.
"Luck favors the prepared mind and their kids played super hard. We had some miscommunication stuff that we can get better at, but tonight definitely didn't help our cause."
While he knows his team is capable of playing better than it showed against the Irish, the fact that it’s so early in the season is not lost on Leppo.
‘When you graduate so many kids, early in the year sometimes it’s hard to find the rhythm,” he said. “Even though we have a lot of seniors, we didn’t always look like it tonight. Those are things we can clean up. We definitely lost the serve and pass battle, and when that happens, you are in trouble against anybody.”
Reach Steve Navaroli at firstname.lastname@example.org.