Cardinals clinch Division II volleyball title

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TAMAQUA - Having survived the biggest threat, Pine Grove head coach Daryl Wessner looked intently along his team's huddle before the third game and said, "One more."

That was all his Cardinals needed to hear.

Rushing out to a big early lead, Pine Grove completed its quest for the Schuylkill League Division II championship Oct. 10, beating Tamaqua, 25-17, 25-19, 25-9 to repeat as division titlist and punch the final ticket for the Schuylkill League playoffs.

The semifinals were scheduled to be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 at Minersville before the championship round shifts to Pottsville's Martz Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday. (Details of those games were unavailable prior to press production.)

Division III champion Halifax is the only newcomer to this year's playoff field, joining returning squads Pottsville, Pine Grove and Marian.

However, the loud celebration accompanying Pine Grove's crossover victory at Tamaqua indicated this is a new experience for these Cardinals. There are no seniors on this squad.

"We want to be like the underdog that steps up, to show everybody what we're made of," said Kayla Bressler, one of Pine Grove's six starting juniors.

Wessner said that is the mindset of these Cardinals, who had to rally from a deficit in the middle of the second game to grab control of Thursday's match.

"When things were bad, we said we have a lot to look forward to," he said. "We kind of take it next point at a time."

That approach has led to six straight victories for the Cardinals (12-4, 10-3 D-II), including a five-set triumph over Panther Valley that proved to be the one-game margin of difference in the division race.

However, Wessner indicated the path hasn't always been pretty.

"Our season has been a lot like that, a scramble at times," he said. "We just continue to work hard and find a way to get it done."

Such was the case in the second game after Pine Grove used four of Bressler's 15 kills and Holly Martin's two aces to win the opening game, 25-17.

Tamaqua (4-12, 2-11 D-I), celebrating its Senior Night after Pine Grove's 2-1 JV triumph, answered to begin Game 2.

Winning several long rallies, the Blue Raiders broke away from the fourth tie of the game to grab a 14-11 edge after Carly Trovinger's service ace. Trovinger paced Tamaqua with 16 assists, five kills and six digs.

The ace was the play that forced Wessner to call his lone timeout of the match.

"He told us that we can do better than this, and we did," Bressler said.

Suddenly, Pine Grove's offense clicked. Marla Stoner, who had 22 assists in the match, issued three straight assists. They led to two kills by Hayley Wolff, who had seven in the match, and another by Bressler to knot the score.

Bressler then converted another pass from Stoner for a 15-14 lead. Tamaqua never recovered, largely because Bressler added three more kills.

Martin then served Pine Grove to a quick 14-3 lead in the third game with an eight-point run, featuring two kills each by Bressler and Wolff.

Despite three kills by Tamaqua's Rebecca Minehan in the game, Pine Grove pushed its way to the 25-9 victory. The match's 17th kill by Bressler clinched the title and began the celebration.

As the reward for their championship, the Cardinals was to draw Marian in the opening match of Tuesday's semifinals. The other pairing will pit Division I champion Pottsville against Halifax.

"We're going to try our hardest to pull through," Bressler said. "We're ready."

The matchup drew a wry smile from Wessner, who knows the Fillies, ranked eighth in Class A in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll, are a tough draw.

"I've already talked to Doc," said Wessner, referring to Marian head coach John Fallabel. "I've never beaten Doc, but I look forward to the opportunity to getting after Marian on Tuesday."

Wessner added, "He has to beat me. I don't have to beat him. I'm not expected to. I like being an underdog."

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