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‘Blessed’ Exley Recognized for Reaching 500 Career Kills as She Honors Late Grandmother in Keystone’s Win Over North Clarion

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Leah Exley visited her grandmother’s grave just hours before Keystone’s volleyball match on Monday night.

It was the one-year anniversary of the death of Peg Fulton, the person who Exley simply called “Grammy Peg.”

“I asked for her blessing so I could honor her,” Exley said. “Boy did that happen.”

(Above, Leah Exley with Keystone coach Bryan Mong)

Before the match, as Exley stood in a row with her teammates, she was honored for a milestone no one in Keystone volleyball history has ever reached: 500 kills.

Exley was surprised by the short ceremony, but ecstatic.

Then, she went out and added 12 more kills to her total in a 25-16, 25-21, 26-24 sweep of North Clarion.

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“It’s a huge honor for me,” she said. “It was a surprise. I had no idea what was going on. I was like, ‘Oh. OK.’ I think it will set in a little more later when I go home.”

Exley now has 520 kills in her career.

She had 20 kills in a 3-1 win over Cranberry on Thursday to surpass 500.

Exley has 126 kills this season. Last year as a junior she had 220.

“We kind of surprised her with it because if she knew about it she probably would have said no,” said Keystone coach Bryan Mong of the ceremony. “That’s just how humble she is. She’ll be the first one to say it’s not about me, it’s about the team. You hit that plateau, something that has never been done here at Keystone to the best of my knowledge, that’s a pretty big deal for the program and for her.”

Exley has also shown over her three-plus years on the floor that she isn’t one dimensional.

Exley rarely comes off the court. She also had 18 digs in the win over North Clarion.

She is also a standout at the service line with 169 career aces. She has 34 this season. Her best campaign was as a freshman when she had 59.

(Leah Exley celebrates a point during the win against Keystone/photo by Tracy Weckerly)

“Her serve in the back, she has more than just the jump float,” Mong said. “She has the topspin serve that she hasn’t even brought out yet this year; she just doesn’t feel comfortable enough with it. I don’t tell my kids at the service line what to do. They have to trust their instincts. They work on it in practice. They know what to do. If she wants to jump float, I’m gonna let her jump float.”

Exley, though, does her most damage at the net.

She’s an intimidating force, especially when she gets a set to her liking.

It’s almost automatic.

“When she’s feeling it, it’s a good thing to have,” Mong said. “She hits it hard. She has a strong arm and she can jump, so it’s hard to even block her. She’s an exceptional player.”

Exley said she has been feeling it lately, and the evidence is in the numbers she’s been putting up recently.

North Clarion tried to counter her by putting more bodies on defense in her hitting lanes. It didn’t matter.

“I think I’m starting to connect with my setters a bit better,” Exley said. “I’m starting to get sets that I can take a big ol’ swing at. They are just placing the ball where I need it and I’m getting good results.”

Exley’s eyes literally swell wide open when she gets that perfect set.

She had a number of those opportunities against the Wolves, who battled hard against the Panthers, leading late in both the second and third sets before falling.

“There was a few where I was like, ‘That’s a perfect set. I’m gonna take a big ol’ hack at it and it’ll go down,’” Exley said, smiling. “And it did.”

Keystone (12-1) cruised in the first set, but the going was much tougher in the final two.

North Clarion (5-6) rallied from 10-3 down in the second set to take a 20-19 lead. The Panthers, though, were able to regroup and went up 2-0.

The Wolves again led 22-21 in the third game. Keystone had a match point thwarted as North Clarion knotted the score at 24-24 before the Panthers scored the next two points to win.

“We have a young team, so we keep hanging with the big schools and the big teams, but we just can’t seem to tip it over,” said North Clarion coach Isabelle Weaver. “It’s hard when you have younger people because they may be talented volleyball players, they just don’t have a lot of experience. When we’re under pressure, sometimes we get a little too nervous. When they have fun and just do their job, they do a great job.”

Reagan Mays had 14 assists and Cameron Peters had 15 digs for Keystone.

Kylie Disney, one of the few experienced players among North Clarion starters, had a big night at libero.

“I love her being in the back row,” Weaver said. “She can do anything for me.”

And Exley can do anything for Keystone.

She also wore shoes on Monday with her grandmother’s initials written on them, as well as the date.

It was hard to deny “Grammy Peg” give Exley a little extra lift.

“It felt like she was watching me,” Exley said, “cheering for me the whole time.”

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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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