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Thrill of Victory for the A-C Valley Volleyball Team … Agony of Defeat for Union

RIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — One by one, members of the Union volleyball team exited the locker room with wet eyes and ruddy cheeks.

It was a heartbreaking way for a season with such promise to end.

Meanwhile in the gym called the “Dungeon,” members of the A-C Valley volleyball team were smiling and celebrating, finally playing well again after a tortuous two weeks.

(Above, A-C Valley’s Meah Ielase, left, and Lexi Ruckdeschel are all smiles after a sweep of Union)

The mood couldn’t be much different after the Falcons swept the Damsels, 25-13, 26-24, 25-17 on Thursday night.

The loss eliminated Union from District 9 Class A playoff consideration. The win handed A-C Valley some momentum heading into the postseason.

“No, there’s nothing I can say to them to make this hurt less,” said Union coach Corri Shumaker, who also had tears in her eyes. “They knew we needed this game. God love them, they tried their hardest. It just wasn’t enough.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

It wasn’t enough because A-C Valley (9-6) found its groove again after a forgettable stretch of matches in mid-October.

The Falcons lost four straight, but have since won two of their last three. Even in the loss to Keystone on Tuesday, A-C Valley played well, giving them a spark that carried over into the regular-season finale.

“I feel like it’s really big,” said senior outside hitter Meah Ielase. “I’m happy that we’re finally back in a groove.”

A-C Valley was decidedly in a groove early against Union, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the first set to cruise to a 25-13 victory.

Union, though, was poised to take the second set, leading 23-21 before A-C Valley rallied. Ieslase put the game away with one of her 10 kills to give the Falcons a 2-0 advantage.

The third set was also close before A-C Valley pulled away again, scoring eight of the final 10 points to earn the sweep.

“Even the other night (against Keystone) we put ourselves in a position to win,” said A-C Valley coach Mike Meals. “It just got away from us, but the effort was there.”

Ielase also had 10 digs for the Falcons and Lexi Ruckdeschel put together another strong match with seven kills and four blocks.

Ruckdeschel also played well against Keystone earlier in the week.

“The last two nights now she has played the way that we expect Lexi to play,” Meals said of the junior middle hitter. “She started out the season pretty strong and then had a dry stretch. The last couple of games she’s been swinging well again.”

That hasn’t been lost on Ruckdeschel.

“It felt really great,” Ruckdeschel said. “At Keystone it was working for me really well, too. It was a good week. I want to keep it going.”

Ieslase and Ruckdeschel said the key to the turnaround has been a recommitment to the fundamentals.

“We’ve been working a lot on serve-receive at practice because that’s really been our problem lately,” Ieslase said.

“We’ve worked on talking on the court a lot more,” Ruckdeschel added. “Knowing whose ball is whose and working better with each other.”

Even through the struggles, Ieslase has been consistently getting double-digit kills.

“To me, she’s right up there with the best players in the league,” Meals said of Ielase. “She’s a good all-around player who not only swings well, but also isn’t afraid to lay out and try to get a ball. She’s a pretty talented girl. We are never disappointed with the effort she gives us.”

Ielase said, though, it’s much easier when her teammates are also getting the ball down to the court.

“I really like having her at the net,” Ielsase said of Ruckdeschel as she threw her arm around her teammate. “It makes me feel good.”

Jenna Stefanacci, who missed a few matches while in quarantine during the Falcons’ skid, had 14 assists. Mackenzie Parks had 11 digs and three aces and Paigle Klingler pitched in 13 digs and five aces for A-C Valley, which will get a good primer for the playoffs when it travels to Elk County Catholic Saturday for a tournament.

“It’s fairly good timing,” Meals said. “We play Saturday and we will still have until Tuesday before we play the opening round of the playoffs. We’re probably going to be in that No. 8- or No. 9-seed range. It’s going to give us the opportunity to tune up the things that we may still not be doing well. We’re also going to see a lot of the competition we’re going to potentially see in the playoffs.”

(Rimersburg native Jami Patsy poses for a picture with the members of the Union and A-C Valley volleyball teams as part of Volley for a Cure ceremony before the match on Thursday night. Patsy is a breast-cancer survivor)

For Union, there will be no playoffs and this elimination was as painful as they come.

The Damsels had match-point against North Clarion Monday in the fourth set, only to lose that game and eventually the match. Needing to just win one more match, either against Clarion or A-C Valley, Union fell in both and ended the season on a five-game losing streak.

Shumaker was saddened to say goodbye to her three seniors, Dominika Logue — who had five kills and five digs against A-C Valley — Hailey Kriebel and Keira Croyle.

Shumaker also will not be back next season. She said she is resigning after two-plus seasons as the head coach and four and a half years as the assistant.

“My kids are starting to get into different stuff — I just have to step away for my kids’ activities right now,” Shumaker said. “I didn’t want it to end like this. I wanted to make the playoffs.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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