New cast of characters has Leechburg volleyball again competing for section title

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Monday, September 26, 2022 | 9:17 PM


The Leechburg girls volleyball team entered the season a younger group than the one that tied for last year’s Section 4-A title with Greensburg Central Catholic and made it all the way to the WPIAL semifinals.

Several key seniors moved on, including All-WPIAL first-team selection Kalli Grine and all-section first-team picks Falyn and Tatum Verner.

But middle hitter Madeline Mastalerz, one of four senior starters helping lead the way this fall, said she likes the identity forged by this year’s team and the way it is making its mark both in and out of section play.

“Things are progressing pretty well,” Mastalerz said after a hard-fought 3-1 win over Trinity Christian on Monday afternoon that lifted Leechburg to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the section.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as smooth as it is. Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, and we still have things to work on, but we put in the work over the summer, and we kept it going when the season started. The underclassmen have really stepped up. Us seniors can’t thank them enough.”

Seniors Macy Kubla (outside hitter), Anna Cibik (libero) and Karli Mazak (middle hitter) also have helped unite the team, which has received starting contributions from junior Giavonna Spagnola, sophomore Emily Talarico and freshmen Addie Zanotto and Ay’hauna Miller.

“Since the beginning of the year, this team has definitely grown in a number of areas, and it continues to build,” Cibik said. “Everyone has been developing their skills. The seniors are really close with the younger girls outside of gym, too, and that helps on the court. We developed that trust in each other, and we made sure the younger players knew how important they would be to what we hope to do this year. We have a lot of room to grow and get better, and that is exciting.”

The victory at Trinity Christian, which featured a boisterous student section and a pep band in the small gymnasium, also allowed the Blue Devils to bounce back from last Thursday’s tough 3-2 loss to rival GCC.

“We practiced on Sunday, something we don’t normally do, so we would be ready for this game,” Mastalerz said. “We put our blood, sweat and tears into this game. This win is important for our playoff standing. We had a few mishaps here and there, but we stuck together as a team and were the better team today.”

Leechburg rolled in Game 1, 25-15, and led 24-21 in Game 2 before Trinity Christian rallied for five straight points to take the game, 26-24.

The Blue Devils lost a 17-8 lead in Game 3 but regained the advantage for good at 19-18 on an ace from Miller.

Kills from Kubla and Talarico put them on the cusp of victory, and a service ace from Spagnola finished off a 25-20 win as Leechburg regained a measure of momentum.

Back-to-back aces from Cibik in Game 4 extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 22-15.

Kills from Mazak and Kubla and a Trinity Christian hit out of bounds closed out the match.

Kubla led the way with 16 kills, while Mazak added eight.

“That was a closer match than I would’ve liked, but we got the win, and that is the important thing,” said Kubla, a second-team All-WPIAL honoree last year. “Hopefully, we can build on this for the second half (of section play).”

Leechburg prepped for section matches with nonsection victories over Highlands, 3-0, and Apollo-Ridge, 3-1.

The Blue Devils swept past Springdale, St. Joseph and Riverview and were blanked by section leader Serra Catholic, No. 2 in this week’s Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class A rankings.

Leechburg, No. 10 this week in the WPVCA rankings, fell behind GCC 2-0 before rallying to tie the match. The fifth and deciding game went down to the wire before the Centurions won, 15-13.

“That was pretty upsetting because they are our rivals and we really wanted that one,” Cibik said. “Only losing by two points (in the fifth set) showed everyone just how even we are. We had lost a lot of momentum after the first two sets, but we realized that if we didn’t fight back, we were going home quickly. Things started to mesh together, and the character of this team really showed.”

Leechburg and GCC will meet again Oct. 18 at GCC.

“When I think about where we were in June and in summer workouts, these girls busted their butts and put themselves in position to have a successful season,” seventh-year head coach Eve Hebrank said. “I told the seniors that they were once in the shoes the younger players are in now, and I challenged them to help and guide them. The seniors delivered, and the new starters, especially the freshmen, have given us so much in return.”

The Blue Devils open the second half of the section schedule at home Thursday against Springdale before Monday’s matchup against Serra Catholic, also at Leechburg.

“We are playing well and are looking solid going into the second half of the season,” Mazak said. “We fixed some bigger issues. Now we just have to work on the small things.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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