PUNXSUTAWNEY — After falling in ugly fashion in set one of the District 9 AAA semifinals at Punxsutawney, Bradford head volleyball coach Steven Daniels had a fairly simple message for his team.
“I told (the girls) it’s a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride home no matter what, so we might as well be here a long time,” he said.
The Lady Owls took that to heart. After winning set two but falling behind again after set three, No. 3 Bradford (9-7) powered back for a five-set (14-25, 25-19, 13-25, 25-13, 15-13) victory against the No. 2 Lady Chucks to advance to the District 9 AAA championship.
It’s the second time in as many years Bradford has defeated Punxsy to advance to the finale against DuBois.
The usual cast of seniors supplied the scoring for the Lady Owls on the night. Erica Marshall posted 10 kills and four digs, Laney Kahle had 26 assists, four kills and four blocks, and Sarie Yohe contributed five kills and four blocks.
But it was a sophomore that supplied the much-needed extra scoring in the season’s biggest moment. Outside hitter Alix Ordiway recorded seven kills on the night, including two in the final set to spring Bradford on a small run and power the Lady Owls to victory.
“Alix is a sophomore, but she’s been playing with the big girls all year,” Daniels said. “I expect (the strong play) out of the seniors, but it’s always nice to see a little bit of a glimmer (of the future). It’s nice to see who comes alive at what moments.”
Junior Alex Asp added eight kills and six blocks for Bradford, as well.
The Lady Owls got off to a less than ideal start on the evening, as Punxsy jumped out to a quick lead thanks to three consecutive aces as part of a 9-1 run to begin the night. Bradford never managed to get back in the mix of set one, and the Lady Chucks won 25-14.
Bradford responded with a critical 25-19 set two victory.
The teams traded points early before Punxsy went on a 7-1 run to grab an 11-6 lead and force a Bradford timeout. The Lady Owls didn’t grab momentum out of the break initially, as the teams began trading points again.
But then, trailing 16-12, Bradford exploded for a 13-3 run to end the set with the six-point win.
Punxsutawney responded in set three, as the Lady Chucks jumped to a 19-7 lead out of the gates and maintained that 12-point advantage down the stretch for a 25-13 win.
“I think it was such a hard-fought second (set) that we took our foot off the gas in the third,” Daniels said.
In set four, Bradford rebounded for a 25-13 win during which the Lady Owls’ last deficit was 3-2 early on.
The teams traded points to a 10-8 Bradford advantage, and then the Lady Owls erupted again, this time for a 9-3 run that put them up 19-11.
After the Lady Chucks recorded a pair of points, Bradford recorded the set’s final six tallies to win.
The difference, Daniels said, was in the Lady Owls’ passing and defense.
“We had to get our feet to the ball and stay inside the zone,” he said of his team’s serve receive. “When we’re outside (the zone) and we’re reaching for the ball instead of running to it, that’s when we have problems. The moment we take two steps and we’re under the ball and able to pass it, that’s when we’re at our best.”
And then came a dramatic set five. The teams went back-and-forth to a 5-5 draw, and then Bradford picked up a quick two points on kills by Yohe and Ordiway to go up 7-5 and force a timeout.
The Lady Chucks responded by grabbing an 11-8 advantage to put Bradford on the ropes.
But just as they had all night, the Lady Owls battled back. Bradford surged ahead with a 5-1 run to grab a 13-12 lead, forcing a Punxsy timeout.
After Punxsutawney knotted things up again, Daniels called his final timeout of the night.
“We lost the point on something we had already discussed, so I said it again, and it allowed (the girls) to take a breather,” he said. “And then I told them it was one point — one point that for the rest of their lives, they’ll remember it.”
Remember it they will, as the Lady Owls took the game’s final two tallies for the 15-13 set win and match victory.
Up next for Bradford is a D9 championship rematch with DuBois on Saturday. The Lady Beavers won in straight sets in 2018, and Daniels says his charges are expecting another tough test this time around.
“I expect everything but the kitchen sink,” he said. “We’ve seen them twice, and they’ve seen us twice. We know the game-plan from both sides. It’s about who wants it.
“You can prepare nine times to Sunday, but it comes down to the girls, and it’s going to be a fun Saturday.”
The championship match will be held at St. Marys Area High School at 1 p.m.