In battle of unbeatens, Meadville knocks off Mars in PIAA 2A boys volleyball semifinals

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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | 9:25 PM


The Mars and Meadville boys volleyball teams entered Tuesday’s PIAA Class 2A semifinal winners of a combined 39 matches without a loss.

Something had to give as the WPIAL champion Fightin’ Planets and District 10 champion Bulldogs met at Shenango High School with a trip to Saturday’s PIAA championship match at Penn State’s Rec Hall on the line.

Meadville (18-0) struck first. Mars rallied.

The Bulldogs responded to take the lead in the match and then delivered the knockout blow in Game 4 for a 3-1 victory to advance to the championship game for the fourth time in five seasons.

“It was a team win tonight,” Meadville coach Nick Bancroft said. “Everyone picked it up when they had to.”

Meadville will face District 3 runner-up Manheim Central (18-1) in the title game at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs will go after their first PIAA title since 2019 and third overall.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the program’s only other state championship.

Meadville, PIAA 2A runner-up to Lower Dauphin in 2021 and 2022, missed the state playoffs last year.

“It was disappointing last year,” Bancroft said. “We had a great team, and just whatever happened. The guys worked really hard. They had a sour taste in their mouths all year long, and they are happy to be here. It’s a testimony to how hard they worked.”

Mars, on the strength of four kills from 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter Derek Piatek in a five-point stretch, led Game 4 18-13 and had designs on taking the match to the limit.

But Meadville, paced by the attack of sophomores Parker Gosnell, Luc Soerensen and Tymir Phillips, rallied to tie the game at 22.

“We had to forget about what was going on and get a side out and move on,” Bancroft said. “Offensively, both teams are high-powered. We had to get a defensive stop to slow them down a bit.”

Soerensen, a 6-8 outside hitter, then played a big part in closing out the match with a kill, a block for a point and the final hit that the Mars defense wasn’t able to return for a 25-22 victory.

A pair of Bulldogs timeouts down the stretch helped get momentum back in their favor.

“(We) couldn’t slow them down at the end, and they had all the momentum,” Mars coach Mike Nypaver said. “(The timeouts) were a big factor in that last set. They did a great job and stayed aggressive the whole way and played very well.”

Mars fell short in its attempt to make a first PIAA title-game appearance.

The Planets arrived at Tuesday’s semifinal matchup with 3-0 victories over District 10 runner-up Saegertown and District 6 champion West Shamokin in the first two PIAA rounds.

“Meadville is just a really good team,” Nypaver said. “They are really scrappy. They have great ball control. We had a tough time getting them out of system. The times we did get them out of system, we had success in the second and fourth sets. The big runs that we had came when we were getting them out of system and making them a little more predictable. But it was really hard because they are a great team.

“They have a lot of power. That is probably the best offensive team we’ve seen all year. They just outmatched us a little bit today.”

Meadville and Mars were not totally unfamiliar with each other as the teams met in the semifinals of the Derry tournament in early April.

Despite some strong hitting from Piatek and seniors Ryan Ceh, Kaden Gratton, Colton Riska, Tyler Raabe and Liam Quinn, Meadville took Game 1, 25-19.

The six-point margin of victory was the largest lead the Bulldogs enjoyed. They also led by six at 13-7 and late in the game at 24-18.

Soerensen and Gosnell paced the hitting attack for Meadville in the opening game. The Bulldogs closed it out on a 5-1 run, taking advantage of two Mars service errors and a pair of Planet hitting miscues in addition to a block for a point by Soerensen.

Mars responded, came out strong in Game 2 and led 9-4. The early run was capped by a kill from Raabe that forced a Meadville timeout.

The Planets’ lead grew to 16-8, forcing a second Meadville timeout.

Mars’ biggest advantage of the game was nine at 23-14. An emphatic kill from Gratton moved the Planets to game point, and after Meadville scored, a Bulldogs serve into the net closed out the 25-17 Mars victory.

Meadville looked to get the momentum back on its side and led 13-7 in Game 3.

But Mars would not go quietly and rallied to lead 18-17 on a Gratton kill at the net.

The Bulldogs and Planets were tied six times down the stretch, from 19-19 to 24-24, before Phillips recorded a kill and a block to give his team a 26-24 victory and a 2-1 lead in the match.

“The guys had a great year, and I am really proud of them,” Nypaver said. “These (11) seniors, to come from basically nowhere as freshmen and be at this point, it’s a heck of a job by them. They were very dedicated for all four of their years. It’s a shame that we have to lose this way and go out. I wish it would’ve been on that final weekend (at Penn State). But they played their butts off, and they deserve all the credit.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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