York Catholic girls' volleyball punches ticket to PIAA state finals

The Fighting Irish took down Notre Dame Green Pond in four sets on Tuesday night in Reading.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

EXETER TOWNSHIP — The PIAA girls’ volleyball playoffs are a place where teams sometimes match up against squads that play differently than anything they’ve seen in the season. Such was the case for the District 3 Class 2A champs from York Catholic.

The Irish have seen a slew of teams with several strong attackers that play an up-tempo style. Tuesday’s opponent in the state semifinals — Notre Dame Green Pond — plays entirely different. Led by standout Carly Campbell, the Crusaders play a more deliberate, slower-paced game than most teams in the state.

That pace seemed to throw the Irish off quite a bit in the early going. Instead of reacting and anticipating, the YC girls were sort of lulled into a habit of watching and then reacting. That led to a slew of early errors that allowed NDGP to claim the first set.

After a stern lecture from coach Phil Autrey, the Irish made adjustments to the way the Crusaders were playing. And much like they did in the District 3 title game against Trinity, the York Catholic girls rebounded by picking up their play as the contest progressed. Using a versatile attack, the Irish were able to turn the tables by winning Sets 2, 3 and 4 to earn a 19-25, 25-13, 25-15, 25-18 victory at Exeter Township High School.

York Catholic celebrates a 3-1 win over Notre Dame Green Pond during PIAA Class 2-A semifinal volleyball action at Exeter Township High School, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Irish (24-2) will now move on to the state final at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School Saturday. The No. 2-ranked team in the class will face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 1 Freeport or No. 3 Phillipsburg-Osceola. That semifinal was originally slated to be played Tuesday, but due to inclement weather conditions for travel, those two programs will instead battle Wednesday for a berth in the title match.

“It was a little rough at the beginning,” York Catholic senior Reese Beck said. “But we all knew we had to get to the championship so we were all like, ‘C’mon, we got this’. We just had to try our hardest.”

Numerous Irish mistakes, mental errors and service errors contributed to NDGP (16-6) staking the early lead in Set 1. Campbell, who finished with 18 kills, was a menace as she tipped, rolled and sometimes rocketed kills over and past the Irish defense.

Campell, who also sets out of the back row, was able to earn several kills on dumps at the net which frustrated the York Catholic girls and Autrey alike.

“The question is, where is she going with the ball?” Autrey said. “And you really don’t know and that’s a credit to her that she’s figured out a way to get her team to this level where she can kind of put her team on her back.”

Once the Irish adjusted to Campbell’s tendency to put the ball over the net anytime the ball came to her, the Crusaders found it difficult to string together points.

“We were kind of hesitant in the beginning,” said Beck, who finished with 18 assists, six digs and two aces. “You could see that we were kind of just waiting around and expecting someone else to dig up the ball. And then we knew we had to make the first move, especially when No. 24 (Campbell) would tip. (After the first set) we kind of knew what she was going to do and we reacted, but she’s really good. It wasn’t easy to stop her.”

Notre Dame Green Pond’s Alyssa Eilenberger, right, hits the ball across the net while York Catholic’s Mary McNamara, left, and Adeline Phillips defend during PIAA Class 2-A semifinal volleyball action at Exeter Township High School, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. York Catholic would win the match 3-1. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York Catholic also had to adjust to a strong service game that NDGP utilizes. Campbell finished with two aces, but all of her teammates kept the Irish serve-receive on their heels all night long.

“It’s really hard on film to get a sense of how difficult of a serving team they are,” Autrey said. “Especially if you don’t know about the teams they are playing whether or not it’s the server or the passer. What I did notice was that their location was really good. They move it around. And you have a team that doesn’t have as many big hitters, so you wonder, ‘How are they winning?’ It’s serving.”

The Irish, who are probably the only team to qualify for this year’s state finals in any classification that do not employ a single jump server, rely on service location and defense to set up their attack. As the match wore on, the York Catholic girls were able to get back to their bread-and-butter often, which set up runs that separated them from the Crusaders.

Adeline Phillips led the Irish with 19 kills to go along with 18 digs and three blocks. Avery Heist finished with nine kills, six blocks, two digs and two aces, while Ashley Patterson tallied seven kills and 15 digs. Paige O’Brien tallied six kills, two digs and a block, while Mary McNamara and Caroline O’Neil each finished with four kills apiece. Beitris Boyreau-Millar dished out 23 assists to go with 10 digs and one ace in the victory for York Catholic.

Now the Irish will embark on their grand finale in the state finals. Saturday’s contest marks the first time the York Catholic girls’ volleyball program has ever advanced to the title game, a thrill that Beck and her fellow senior teammates are thoroughly enjoying.

“It’s amazing,” Beck said. “I know it’s going to be a huge game. I wanted (to get to the state final) so badly. I thought districts could be it, but now that we’re in the state finals it’s just a whole other level.”