NTL Volleyball: Back-to-back titles for the Gators

The Port Allegany volleyball team poses for the cameras after the Gators (17-1, 14-0) defeated Coudersport to win their second consecutive North Tier League championship.
(Photo credit: Pam Fischer)

Port Allegany and Coudersport were the best two volleyball teams in the North Tier League all season, with the Gators needing five sets to dispatch the Falcons in their first meeting, so nobody was surprised that the NTL title would come down to the rematch in last Thursday night’s regular-season finale in the Port gym.

Knowing they could derail the Gators’ perfect run through the NTL and force a playoff for the league title with a win, Coudy took an early lead, but Port quickly rallied. With the adrenaline factor high and both teams committing uncharacteristic serving errors, the lead seesawed back and forth before the Gators eked out a 25-22 victory in the first set.

Port jumped out in front in the second game on a five-point service run by Taylor Causer, with the senior trio of Rachel Taylor, Jenny Shelley, and Ashley Woodruff doing the damage at the net, but the Falcons kept it close until Becca Lathrop closed out the set with a spike that spun backward off the block attempt for another 25-22 margin.

It was Causer on the service line again to stake the Gators to a 5-1 lead in the third game. Coudy still wouldn’t go away, creeping back within 17-15 before Port went on a six-point run behind the tandem of Shelley serving and Taylor hammering home the kills. A Lathrop kill ended a brief Falcon run to set up match point, and another one secured the 25-18 win and the three-game sweep to repeat as NTL champs.

“They played very well. I’m very proud of them,” Port coach Sharon Daniels said. “They stepped up and they stepped up big. Our game plan the last two or three weeks has just been aggressive on offense – hit the ball, hit the ball, hit the ball. That’s what they’re doing.”

Co-captains Taylor (19 kills, 5 blocks), Shelley (30 assists, 7 points, 6 kills), and Woodruff (6 kills) led the Gators (17-1, 14-0 NTL) in their final regular-season appearance on their home court, with Lathrop (5 points, 8 kills), Brooke Roys (6 kills, 4 blocks), and Causer (10 points, 8 digs) also chipping in.

Kayla Gleason (9 kills), Kelsey Karpinski (5 kills), Kiersten Counts (5 kills, 26 digs) led the Falcons (13-3, 12-2 NTL).

“They play better defense than we do. We have to stick to our gameplan about offense – usually that makes up for what we’re lacking on defense – and they found our weak spots and went after them. They’re a heck of a team,” Coudersport coach Patty Wilson said of the two-time league champs.

“These two teams are so well matched, when we play, it’s fun. I always tell the girls, ‘This is fun. You need to embrace this moment, enjoy the moment.’ Obviously you want to win, but you also want to teach them how to play under that pressure and enjoy the game.”

Both teams were slated to host District 9 first-round matches on Wednesday night – bumped from Tuesday by Hurricane Sandy – with an eye on making it to the championships at St. Marys High School on Saturday.

Would they mind seeing each other again?

“Absolutely. That’s our plan,” Wilson said. “I said to Sharon, ‘You know how they say you don’t want to keep meeting the same team, it’s hard to keep beating a team. Hopefully when we meet you in the playoffs we’ll be able to get you.’”

As for coach Daniels?

“I’d rather not,” she said with a grin.

UPDATE: After a day’s delay due to Hurricane Sandy, both teams posted straight-set victories in their District 9 playoff openers on Wednesday night, with Port downing Otto-Eldred 25-10, 25-5, 25-16 and Coudy spiking Smethport 25-12, 25-17, 25-16.

The third-seeded Gators host No. 6 Keystone at 6:30 p.m. tonight, while the Falcons visit Elk County Catholic in the 4/5 matchup.

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