SHEFFIELD, Pa. – Sheffield volleyball had to fight off some early nerves, and a game opponent, but came away from its first playoff match since 2014 with a 3-1 win over Clarion-Limestone Thursday.
(Photo by Brian Hagberg. Sheffield’s Kassidy Orinko (2) and Kadence Steffan (20) go up for a block against Clarion-Limestone’s Brooke Kessler (11) during their District 9 playoff match at Sheffield High School, Thursdsay, Oct. 29, 2020. Orinko had 12 kills and 26 digs to help lead the Wolverines to the quarterfinals with a 3-1 win over the Lions.)
The Wolverines overcame a rough first set, and battled back from a big deficit in the third to come away with a 13-25, 25-15, 25-23 and 25-22 win over the Lions. Sheffield advances to the District 9 quarterfinals where the Wolverines will square off with Elk County Catholic.
“They are having fun out there,” Sheffield coach Melissa Lemay said. “It started with wins (early in the season) and we kept getting better. It helped build their confidence.”
It took a set for that confidence to show. Though they came into the playoffs as the 11-seed, the Lions opened the match looking like the higher seeded team. C-L raced out to a 7-2 lead to start the first set.
The Wolverines battled back to get within a point at 13-12, but the Lions answered with an 11-0 run, behind the serving of Brooke Kessler, to get to set point. Sheffield got a block from Lynzie Grubbs to keep the set alive, but C-L ended it on the next point for a 25-13 set win and 1-0 match lead.
“We were the bottom seed, but we came out on fire,” C-L coach Kelly Dungan said. “I’m extremely proud.”
(Photo by Brian Hagberg. Clarion-Limestone players celebrate after winning the first set in their match against Sheffield at Sheffield High School, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.)
Lemay knew the one of the Lions’ strengths was their serve, but the Wolverines struggled with it through the first set.
“(Kessler) killed us that first game,” Lemay said. “I think (it was nerves), but we played like we were the lower seed (that set).”
Sheffield was able to clean up the mistakes in the second set, and used a 9-0 run to take control of the set. Annabel Sheldon served four aces during that run.
C-L tried to claw its way back in, but Sheffield held on to tie the match with a 25-15 win.
“Sheffield did a great job exploiting our weaknesses,” Dungan said.
The Lions opened the third set with a 7-0 run and looked to be in complete control. A Celia Shaffer ace gave C-L a 12-3 lead, but six straight errors trimmed the lead to 12-9.
“We were not reading as well and had a communication breakdown,” Dungan said.
Ruby Smith’s kill stopped the Sheffield run, but Wolverine freshman Kassidy Orinko began asserting herself with the next point. Through the remainder of the set, Orinko racked up four kills, two blocks and an ace.
“It’s one point at a time,” Lemay said. You’re not going to go from 7-0 to 8-7 in one point. So we just had to focus on one point at a time.”
More strong serving by Sheldon, and timely kills from Emily Leichtenberger and Lynzie Grubbs pushed the Wolverines out to a 23-18 advantage. C-L wouldn’t go away and got within a point at 24-23. Fittingly, Orinko ended the set with a kill to put Sheffield up 2-1 in the match.
“She gets pumped whenever she has a big block or kill,” Lemay said. “But she’s got a quiet power to her. When she gets going, I say ‘feed the beast.'”
The fourth set was a true back-and-forth battle that featured seven lead changes. An 8-0 C-L run put the Lions up 13-8. Sheffield answered with an 8-0 run of its own to grab a 16-13 advantage. The Lions came back to tie the set at 16, but the Wolverines were able to maintain the lead, at least temporarily.
(Photo by Brian Hagberg. Sheffield’s Lynzie Grubbs tries to put down a kill between Clarion-Limestone’s Brooke Kessler and Celia Shaffer during their District 9 playoff match at Sheffield High School, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.)
“This was a great match,” Dungan said. “It was our first time in the playoffs since 2006 and it showed what the girls are able to do.”
A pair of Orinko aces and a Grubbs kill put the Wolverines up 21-16. C-L came back again to take the lead at 22-21. Sheffield took the lead for good at 23-22 and finished off the match with a 25-22 win.
“We came together as a team,” Orinko said. “This (win) is a big deal. We haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014.”
For Lemay and seniors Sheldon, Lily Lauffenberger and Emily Leichtenberger, this victory was a culmination of a building process that began five years ago.
“I didn’t want to tell them beforehand that this would be their last game in this gym,” Lemay said. “For them to get a win here, in front of their friends and family . . . I’m super excited for them.”
(Photo by Brian Hagberg. Emily Leichtenberger (22) shares a smile with her teammates following the Wolverines’ 3-1 win over Clarion-Limestone in the District 9 playoffs at Sheffield High School, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020.)
“This was a nice way to go out,” Leichtenberger said. “A nice way to end my career in this gym.”
Smith and Cass Makray led the Lions with eight kills each. Kendall Dunn ran the offense with 20 assists. Janelle Pezzuti had 19 digs, while Celia Shaffer added three blocks and Kessler served three aces.
Orinko paced the Wolverines with 12 kills and 26 digs. Leichtenberger had eight kills and 10 digs. Sheldon finished with seven kills, eight aces and 22 digs. Grubbs had eight blocks on the night and Kadence Steffan ran the offense with 26 assists.
The Wolverines head to Elk County Catholic Tuesday for a quarterfinal match with the Crusaders. Match time is set for 6:30 p.m.
“We have to play hard and with confidence,” Orinko said.