Serra Catholic returns to WPIAL finals with hard-fought 5-set win over Greensburg Central Catholic

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 | 12:39 AM

The third time wasn’t the charm for Greensburg Central Catholic. And, even though it took five sets, Serra Catholic made sure of it.

The experienced Eagles rallied back all night and were able to dominate at the net in the final set to outlast the Centurions, 3-2, in the WPIAL Class A semifinals Tuesday at Peters Township’s AHN Arena.

“It’s hard to beat any team in any sport three times in one season,” Serra coach Keith Trahan said. “We even beat them two more times in tournaments this season. They had nothing to lose. But we held strong and never panicked. We were steady and just played it point by point.

“GCC is a great team, and it’s hard to beat them. We found a way to win tonight. Our seniors carried us and I thought our defense was solid. We passed the ball well to our hitters and we didn’t back down from the pressure tonight. They had two great hitters, we had our hands full.”

Serra advances to its second straight Class A title game and improved to 2-3 in the semifinals since 2015. The top-seeded Eagles (19-0) will play No. 3 Bishop Canevin (19-1), a 3-1 winner over defending champion Frazier, the second seed, at 11 a.m. Saturday at Peters Township.

The Eagles defeated the Crusaders, 3-1, in last year’s semifinals.

“We had to play smart the whole night and keep the ball on the court,” said senior Maria Goldstein, who had 10 kills. “We couldn’t give them anything cheap. They are a good team, we knew that, but I think it was our energy and composure that lifted us up.”

In the fifth set, Serra broke away from a 2-2 deadlock with three consecutive points. After the squads traded points, GCC knotted things up at 9-9.

The Eagles called a timeout, and after the pause, the Centurions (12-6) served the ball out of bounds and Serra got two big kills by Caitlyn Cooley and Goldstein to go up 12-9.

After a GCC timeout, the Eagles claimed the final, thrilling set of the night by scoring three of the final six points. Olivia Hussein, who had nine kills and five blocks, sealed the victory with a massive kill.

“I was actually kind of mad at myself,” Hussein said. “I missed some earlier kills in the fifth set, and I just wanted to come through for my team. My setter gave me the perfect pass, and I just slammed it down. It felt good when I saw that ball hit on the other side.”

It was a back-and-forth opening set as neither team could get any sustained separation. Serra took a 5-2 lead after an ace by Goldstein, but GCC rebounded with a 5-0 spurt.

Trailing 10-8, the Eagles knotted things up at 11-11, but the Centurions jumped out to a 16-13 advantage after a kill by Eva Denis. After the teams exchanged points, Serra went on an 8-2 rally for a 22-20 lead.

GCC was down by two points late, but countered with a 4-1 rush that put Serra on its heels. The No. 1 seed calmly got back into the set as Emerson Trahan nailed a push in the middle of the court for a point and then the senior garnered an ace.

After a long volley, Serra’s Caitlyn Cooley hammered down the set-winning kill for the two-point victory.

The Centurions jumped out of the gates with the opening three points of the second set, but the Eagles rallied back with 10 of the next 17 points. A kill by Goldstein knotted things up at 10-10, but GCC built a 16-11 lead after scoring six of the next seven points.

After a timeout by Serra, the Eagles got back into the second set with a 7-2 spree, as Cate Clarke collected a pair of kills in the run. GCC called a pair of timeouts to slow down Serra, but it had no effect, as the Eagles built a 24-21 lead after a 7-3 run.

GCC had a quick rally with three consecutive points, and then the Centurions were finally able to pull away with four of the next six points.

“There were a lot of kills tonight,” Coach Trahan said. “A lot of hard hits and both teams were very active at the net. Our hitters came through, too. This is Bri Battles’ first year playing volleyball and she has been fun to watch. It’s a testament to the culture of the team. These girls are there for each other and they want to compete at a high level.”

Serra responded with a solid start in the third set with the opening four points and then held an 8-2 lead after some kills by Cooley and Battles. GCC trimmed the deficit down to 15-9, but the Eagles answered back with five straight points and then took four of the final five points for the 12-point win.

In the fourth set, the Eagles led 4-1 before the Centurions rallied with five unanswered points. GCC then broke away from a 10-10 tie with four straight points, the final two aces by Grace Kindel. After a couple points by Serra, GCC stretched its lead to 18-12 and forced the Eagles to call a timeout.

Serra had a brief rally to cut GCC’s lead to 21-19, but the Centurions scored four of the final five points to force a fifth set in the battle of section rivals.

Emerson Trahan dished out 34 assists with 19 service points, while Cassidy Trahan had 37 digs and 15 service points. Battles garnered 11 kills and six blocks.

“The relationship between the setter and the hitters is special,” Emerson Trahan said. “They make my job a lot easier. I usually always listen to my dad and pass the ball to who he tells me to. I have so many good options on the team, and they came through big at the net.”

Cooley added 14 service points and six kills. Cate Clark scored 13 service points and Riley Kostandinu had 10 service points.

“We knew they were going to come out and fight,” Cooley said. “We had to match their intensity. We battled through a lot tonight and held on to the very end. We have so many good hitters on our team and our setter is awesome. We are so happy to get back to the finals. That’s been our main goal.”

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