SENECA, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Trailing 6-0 in the first set against visiting Northern Potter, Cranberry volleyball coach Jennifer Stover called a timeout.
She gathered her team in a huddle, a reassuring smile creasing her mask.
“It’s nothing but nerves,” Stover told her team.
(Above, Maria Anderson was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game)
The Berries calmed down, went out and rolled off the next 11 points to seize control of that first set and held off a pesky Panthers’ team on the way to a 25-19, 25-7, 27-25 sweep in the first round of the District 9 Class A playoffs on Tuesday night at the Berry Dome.
“They just needed to take a deep breath, not worry about those six points,” Stover said. “You know, early in the season we would make an error and they would be harder on themselves than they would be each other, and we’ve been really working on understanding that even the best players are going to make mistakes.”
Maria Anderson has taken that to heart. One of the players who would beat herself up over a miss-hit or an unfortunate error, the senior outside hitter has learned to calm herself and move on instead of dwelling on each foible.
It wasn’t easy, and she admitted there are still times when her emotions get the better of her.
Like during the 6-0 hole the Berries found themselves in out of the gate.
“At first I was definitely frustrated,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of been a thing with our team this year. We’re all very, very successful athletes, but we went out there and were nervous. One timeout and we were back in the game. It wasn’t just the team that needed to regroup. I had to regroup individually, too. Once I did, I was back in a groove.”
It was the 11th straight win for Cranberry (14-4), which was the sixth seed in a deep and talented Class A bracket.
For most of the night, the Berries played like an elite team.
Ayanna Ferringer had eight of her 12 kills in the first set, then Anderson took over with 12 of her 14 kills coming over the second and third sets.
Anderson was virtually unstoppable when she found a set from Ashlynn Collins to her liking, which was often.
Collins had 27 assists for Cranberry.
As a senior captain, Anderson said she feels like she has to set the tone.
“I want to lead the team by example,” Anderson said. “It’s hard sometimes. I get frustrated sometimes, but I really try to push it down and it has definitely made a difference. I don’t struggle as much as I did. I’ve been trying hard to keep my cool.”
Cranberry did a good job of that against 11th-seeded Northern Potter, which was playing without two starters.
The Berries dominated the second set, rolling off 15 consecutive points to take a 23-4 lead before closing out the set for a 2-0 lead. The third set was much more competitive and the Panthers had a chance to steal it away.
But Cranberry held.
Norther Potter stormed back from 22-17 down to reach set-point at 25-24 before Cranberry won the next three points — fittingly on three straight kills by Anderson — to win the match and advance to the quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Oswayo Valley.
“I’m super proud of them. Super proud,” said Northern Potter coach Jenna McConnell. “It was a three-hour bus ride, playing without two starters, which put a wrench in things, and they never gave up. We’ve been like that the entire season. They didn’t stop fighting.”
Cranberry will keep on fighting. Last season, the Berries were knocked out of the district playoffs in the first round.
This season, Cranberry got off to rough start with a tough early schedule that featured matches against Clarion and Keystone. The Berries started 1-3 with serve-receive being the biggest bugaboo.
“We worked on it at practice — that’s all we did for awhile,” Anderson said. “It’s a lot better. We’re a lot better. It’s a huge, huge difference. We didn’t talk as well as we do now. We weren’t really sure how to play together as a team.
“Even now, I don’t think we really realize how far we’ve come,” Anderson added. “This winning streak has really been good for us this year because I don’t think we expected to do this after losing a lot of seniors from last year. But we’ve made it this far and we’re doing really well.”
Otto-Eldred 3, A-C Valley 1 – Katie Sheeler had 14 kills, five blocks and 24 digs as Otto-Eldred eliminated A-C Valley from the Class A playoffs.
Carrie Drummond and Briana Silvis each added nine kills and Anna Merry had 31 assists in the win.
Meah Ielase had 16 kills and 22 digs for the Falcons. Jenna Stefanacci had 28 assists and 16 digs, Lexi Ruckdeschel four kills and four blocks, and Paige Klingler and Baylee Blauser each six kills in the loss.
“The girls played pretty well tonight. Gave their best effort of the year,” said A-C Valley coach Mike Meals. “We had late leads in games two and three and couldn’t quite seal the deal.”
Otto-Eldred will face No. 1 seed Clarion Thursday.