South Xtra: Mt. Lebanon savors a championship season

VOLLEYBALL

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It was a season to remember for the Mt. Lebanon High School girls volleyball team and coach Jeff Schilling, as the Blue Devils surprisingly won their third WPIAL Class AAA title in six years.

But Schilling's squad fell short of the ultimate achievement after losing in the PIAA quarterfinals to Landisville Hempfield of District 3 on Saturday.

"We don't judge ourselves on section or WPIAL titles," Schilling said. "The key is to compete and play hard in every match. When we do that, the winning takes care of itself.

"Our goal was to get as far as we could in the WPIAL tournament and we came away with a title. The PIAA tournament was a bonus. The girls gave it all they had in the PIAA quarterfinals and came up a bit short. We bow out tied for fifth in the state. That's certainly something to be proud of."

Mt. Lebanon qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs by winning the Section 5-AAA title. The Blue Devils were seeded No. 4 in the 15-team bracket and began their postseason journey with a 3-0 victory against Plum in the first round.

Next was No. 5 seed Pine-Richland, last year's WPIAL runner-up, and Mt. Lebanon won the match by the smallest possible margin in a 3-2 marathon. The Blue Devils then shocked top-seed Oakland Catholic with a three-set sweep.

Schilling's squad saved its best performance for the WPIAL title match against No. 3 seed Fox Chapel Area. The Blue Devils rallied from a 1-set deficit to defeat the Foxes, 3-1.

"One of our goals as a coaching staff is to make the girls into strong young women, and I feel confident in saying we've done that," Schilling said.

Mt. Lebanon began its PIAA journey with a 3-0 sweep of District 9 champion DuBois. But the journey ended a bit sooner than the Blue Devils had hoped, as they dropped a 3-0 decision to Hempfield, last year's PIAA runner-up.

"I feel pretty good about how the girls played on Saturday," Schilling said. "They gave it everything they had, but were facing a team that was better. That's all I can ask of them."

Hempfield, located in Lancaster County, finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the state, but finished third in the District 3 tournament.

"We had a 16-13 lead in the first set, but Hempfield was just too strong," Schilling said. "They just had too much fire-power."

Hempfield rallied to post a 25-21 win in the first set, pulled out a 25-23 decision in the second set, then capped the quarterfinal victory with a 25-14 win.

Senior outside hitter Caroline Grattan turned in another impressive performance for the Blue Devils in her final varsity match by recording 18 kills.

"Caroline was the top vote-getter on the WPIAL Class AAA All-Star Team," Schilling said. "She is more than just a prolific attacker. She is a great teammate and mentor. Her ability to communicate with her squad, and more importantly, to work with the younger players in the program makes her an asset who will be difficult to replace."

Grattan is one of four Mt. Lebanon players recognized on the All-WPIAL Class AAA team. Junior middle hitter Megan Riemer and sophomore middle hitter Alexa Pavlick were voted to the second team and senior setter Rachel Amoroso was a third-team pick.

"We have five seniors on this team and all five played a significant role in our success," Schilling said. "They will be missed."

The other three seniors are libero Kate Borelli, setter Mary Nicholas and defensive specialist Kristen Matthis.

"We are fortunate to have a nice group of experienced players coming back." Schilling said.

In addition to Riemer and Pavlick, other key players returning for the Blue Devils are outside hitters Mary Baich and Keeley Foor and defensive specialist Anna Kulzer.

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