WESTMORELAND COUNTY — The only thing worse than a three-hour road trip for high school athletes is the three-hour trip back following a tough season-ending loss.
The Eagles landed at Hempfield High School in Westmoreland County Tuesday evening with the hopes of making a run in the PIAA Class 3A boys volleyball bracket, but so did District 7 runner-up Bethel Park.
The Black Hawks used great net play and timely hitting to upend Cumberland Valley 3-0 (29-27, 26-24, 25-16) in the first round.
“We had our chances,” said Cumberland Valley coach Terry Ranck. “We come back in set two and, if we win that, it turns the momentum a little bit.”
Bethel Park (17-1) advances to Saturday’s quarterfinals against District 6 champ State College (15-4) at a site and time to be determined.
“They were a very good team,” said Bethel Park coach Zach Smith. “Blake Liprando is probably the best hitter we’ve seen all season and they just kept coming.”
For Cumberland Valley (17-3), the loss marks the end of a season and an era in CV volleyball.
“There’s just too many good things from this season to worry about this loss at this point,” Ranck said. “This program has grown and we just continue to get better. We need to get back to the drawing board and work with some young kids.”
Neither team blinked during the first set, as both teams’ style of play nearly resembled one another. And neither team took more than a three-point advantage in the first set. Bethel Park had set point three times, but Liprando, a St. Francis recruit, kept the Eagles in the set with kills.
Liprando finished with 20 kills and three service aces, with Dylan Buzalka adding seven kills and tallying three aces for the Eagles.
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“Liprando has carried a huge load for us and has taken tons of swings,” Ranck said. “I really can’t say enough good things about him.”
The very competitive first set ended on an anti-climatic net violation by CV to give Bethel Park the win. Otherwise, it seemed as if the set could go on forever.
“Set one, we were in control and we kind of let them do the same thing,” Ranck said. “They kind of kicked the door in. We had our opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
The second set was more of the same but Bethel Park kills started to find the open spots on the floor. The Black Hawks took a 6-5 lead on a kill by Austin Cortopassi and never trailed again. Bethel Park went on a 7-1 run midway through the set to bring the score to 18-12 before the Eagles called a time out to regroup.
“The ball rolled our way a couple of times,” Smith said. “They played great and stayed with us the entire time.”
Black Hawk outside hitter Max Cooley took over in the third set. Cooley notched three kills in a row to give Bethel Park a 7-4 lead early in the set.
Bethel Park ran away with the set late, compliments of CV hitting and service errors. Eagles errors accounted for 16 of the Black Hawks’ 25 points in the final set.
Cooley finished with 13 kills and teammate Tyler Simpson added 11 to pace the Bethel Park attack.
“There’s very little separating those two teams,” Ranck said. “You make a play, you don’t make a play. You win, you lose.”