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All Smiles: Meah Ielase, A-C Valley Volleyball Happy With Falcons’ Young Talent, Prospects

FOXBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — As a sophomore at A-C Valley, Meah Ielase let every service error, every miss-hit, every little mistake eat away at her.

She’d dwell on the miscues she made on the volleyball court. When things weren’t going her way, she’d get down on herself — and that only added to her struggles.

Ielase knew she was a talented player, but her mind was getting in the way.

Her solution?

“Smiling more,” she said.

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

Ielase worked hard on changing her attitude. Instead of focusing on her mistakes, she learned how to simply move on. It was a difficult process and one she admits isn’t completely finished — she loathes service errors most of all — but she made significant strides last season and enters her senior campaign with a mind mostly free of the fear of foibles.

“I really practice smiling more and thinking, ‘OK. It’s only one point. I can fix it. I can do something better,’” Ielase said.

Keeping a smile on her face has been made more difficult already this season because of the recent surge of COVID-19. A-C Valley had to press pause on all activities and move to remote learning Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Falcons felt like they had ironed out some of the early season kinks during their volleyball tournament over the weekend.

Then the shutdown happened.

Ielase, though, wasn’t going to let that stunt the momentum she had already built.

Forced to stay home, Ielase and her younger sister, sophomore Bella, decided to get to work on their own to stay sharp.

“We did some volleyball things while we were in quarantine,” Meah Ielase said. “I try to push her a lot — sometimes she doesn’t like it. I try to make her better, point out little things. She’ll point out little things for me. We make each other better.

“I’m really hoping everything is all done and we don’t have to shut down again,” she added.

Ielase is determined to build on her breakout junior season when she as an all-around threat with 80 kills, 135 digs and 30 aces with her powerful and deceptive serve.

She’s off to a good start. A-C Valley was back at it Thursday and again on Saturday, both wins for the Falcons. Ielase was a key on each victory with 16 kills, 23 digs and 22 service points combined.

Ielase is expecting much more out of herself and her team this season.

“We lost a lot of people, but we also have a lot of good, young talent,” Ielase said. “I feel like we can do really well this year and that makes me excited for the season.

“A personal goal of mine this year is to not miss any serves,” she added. “Another personal goal of mine is to just really enjoy this year, since it will be my last.”

With the uncertainty swirling around COVID-19, savoring her final high school season is even more important to Ielase. This week has already shown her that it can all be taken away in an instant.

“I’m making sure I enjoy every practice,” Ielase said. “I’m making sure I enjoy every game. I can’t wait to play every day. I just want it to never end.”

Ielase is hoping it won’t after A-C Valley. She intends to pursue a degree in nursing and also play volleyball.

She just doesn’t know where yet.

That’s a concern for another time.

Right now, Ielase — the only full-time starter who returns this season for the Falcons — is hoping to help develop the younger players around her.

The lineup will be full of six-rotation players — A-C Valley won’t employ a defensive specialist or a libero. Joining Ielase as threats the net will be Lexi Ruckdeschel, Paige Klingler and Mackenzie Parks.

Ruckdeschel, who is also an accomplished quad racer, has made a big impact already as well with 18 kills in two matches.

Jenna Stefanacci will be the main setter, and Meals said she is playing well.

Bella Ielase and Colleen Verostek will also see significant action.

While the roster is inexperienced, A-C Valley coach Mike Meals is intrigued by the level of talent he has. It will have to mature quickly to contend with a gauntlet of good teams in the district.

“It’s a much improved league with Clarion still at the top,” Meals said. “I feel like we have enough talent that we can play with anybody, but we have to show up every night. If we don’t, and we’re not giving 100% effort, we can lose to any of those teams, but I feel like we’re good enough that we can beat any of them.”

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