COVINGTON TWP. – With silver medal in hand, Greg Cechak watched as each member of the Delaware Valley volleyball team received their gold medals.
One thing the Hazleton Area head coach heard over and over was the word senior.
Nine in all, but two really made their impact felt in the District 2 Class 3A title game.
Taylor Braunnagle had 10 kills, while classmate Alyssa Kelly had 19 kills and 10 assists to pace the Warriors past the Cougars, 3-0, at North Pocono High School.
Match scores were 25-13, 25-13 and 25-14.
Delaware Valley, runners-up in the Wyoming Valley Conference, advance to the opening round of the PIAA state tournament against the District 11 champ. That match will be Tuesday at Bethlehem Liberty High School.
“It’s special for me to be around this group, and I hope that it’s special for them,” Delaware Valley head coach Bridget Crawford said. “They have been playing together for a long time, and they know each other so well on the court. Plus, they are great friends off the court. The team chemistry has helped us this year.”
Yet, you can’t help but think the impact those seniors had.
It’s something the first-year Hazleton Area coach is hoping pays off for his team in the future. The Cougars lose just three seniors off this year’s squad – but three important ones in Katie Landis, Tatiana Kania and Christie Kashack.
“They have nine seniors on their team that have played together for four years,” Cechak said. “Their coach is amazing. We are a young team that’s still developing. We did well with the back-and-forth rallies. Having an opposite weak side hitter is a huge advantage, and they have one. When you have someone that can play it at a high level like that, they could make a run in the playoffs.”
With seniors all over the court, it’s tough to really trip up the Warriors.
Kelly and Braunnagle, not only talented hitters, play the back row solidly and both hover around the 6-foot range.
Jessical Balcarcel is probably one of the best liberos in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
And that’s not counting the contributions of the other six seniors.
There is never a lack of communication. Never a sense of frustration. Plus, there was a keen understanding of the importance of starting strong.
DelVal did just that, jumping out to 15-4 leads in both the second and third sets, and leading by as much as 10 in the first.
Give the Cougars credit because the effort was there.
Hazleton stood its ground at the net, even when Braunnagle was slamming shot after shot. Cechak’s group hung in with several long rallies, and digging multiple balls from the ground.
“I’m proud of them,” Cechak said. “I’m a first-year coach, and they bought into the system. I couldn’t expect anything more of them. We made it to the championship, and lost to a real good team. Our girls played their hearts out. They have done everything and went above and beyond. With another year under our belt, hopefully, we’ll be able to grab those gold medals next year.”
The problem was forcing the Warriors into mistakes.
Hazleton had just eight kills in the match – four by junior Rachel Farkus – and struggled to put any type of run together.
“Our passing and serve-receive has improved and we were spot on with the serves,” Crawford said. “I think our serves were key in keeping them out of system.”
Delaware Valley 3, Hazleton Area 0
Delaware Valley `25`25`25
HAZ: Rachel Farkus 4 kills; Katie Landis 2 kills, 1 ace.
DV: Alyssa Kelly 19 kills, 10 assists; Taylor Braunnagle 10 kills; Isabella Wood 16 assists; Jessical Balcarcel 3 kills, 14 digs, 2 aces.