New Castle News
The Neshannock High girls volleyball team is in the round of 16 for the first time in program history.
The Lady Lancers continued their unexpected run with a 13-25, 25-10, 18-25, 25-18, 15-4 victory over Rochester in the preliminary round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
“We do it the hard way,” Neshannock coach Andrew Frank said. “We came into that fifth game, and we definitely wanted to win.”
The five-game match was a roller-coaster ride of emotions and momentum swings. The Lady Rams (9-8) won the first game in convincing fashion, as the Lady Lancers (11-6) seemed tentative at the start.
A rally for the first point in the second game woke up Neshannock. After a back-and-forth exchange in which neither team wanted to budge, the Lady Lancers were able to score the first point. After that, the team began to play a more fundamentally sound game that has been characteristic of the team’s ascent into the playoffs.
“I stick with fundamentals,” Frank said. “I’m teaching these girls, as I rebuild and restructure the program, to rely on fundamentals when they play this game, because it will get you through the tougher matches. If you play fundamentally sound volleyball, you will win.”
Neshannock fundamentally dominated the second game. Sophomore Taylor Frank served on 11 straight points for the Lady Lancers, including two aces, to give the team an insurmountable 21-9 lead. Frank, the coach’s daughter, ended the game with eight points, 14 digs and 35 assists.
“I got up to the line and I was nervous,” she said. “But once we got on the roll and I got them in, we ran on momentum. We were all happy. We were up, and we got them when they were down.”
After winning 25-10, Neshannock struggled with unforced errors in dropping the third game, 25-18.
“We got into a little trouble in the third game with passing, we fought our way through that,” Andrew Frank said. “We were really sighting out the corners when we were hitting.”
Emotions looked like they might get the better of the team after the loss, especially for Taylor Frank, who appeared visibly upset on the sideline.
“It kind of got in my head,” she said. “I pulled through and it got it out of my system.”
It was Frank who ended the next game at 25-18 with a kill that barely touched inbounds. It also was a strong game for two seniors on the team, Katelyn Burrelli and Rayanna Furst. Burrelli finished the match with six points and three kills. Furst finished with eight points, five kills and four aces.
Before the deciding fifth game, Andrew Frank emphasized the importance of the moment to his team.
“What I’m liking about what I’m seeing with this young team is that when adversity comes, they’re starting to learn to be mentally tougher,” Frank said. “That’s part of this game. This game is not only fundamental skills, but it’s also mental toughness. I think that’s one thing that’s very difficult to teach unless you’re in high powered games like this, where it’s intense and every point counts.”
The Lady Lancers were up to the challenge.
Neshannock jumped out to a 4-1 lead after two aces from Madison Altmyer, who finished with seven points, four kills, four aces and team-high 15 digs. When the Lady Rams cut Neshannock’s lead to 4-2, a powerful kill by Jordan Wethli gave the serve back to the Lady Lancers. Wethli excelled as the outside hitter for the team with 16 points and 15 kills.
With Neshannock leading 7-2, it was Kaela Zingaro’s turn to serve.
“We wanted it bad,” Zingaro said. “We had to show them what we’re made of.”
Zingaro went on to score three straight aces which put the team up 10-2. Zingaro finished with five points, six aces and eight digs.
“It felt amazing, honestly.” she said “My team was all excited. We had to be confident. The past few games we played before that I missed serves because I was nervous and stressed, but my team wanted it and so did I. I had to be confident and win it for them.”
The Lady Lancers won the fifth game, 15-4. Courtney Proctor finished the match with four kills for Neshannock. Tayler Grybowski had three kills.
“It was really a good match, but in the end we wanted it more,” Andrew Frank said. “The opposing team saw it. Our team saw it. The fans saw it. It’s a great win for Neshannock.”
The victory is surprising for Neshannock volleyball, a program not familiar with success and playoff appearances. This is the first appearance for the Lady Lancers past the preliminary round of the WPIAL championships and only the second playoff appearance in the program’s history.
“Since our coach (Andrew Frank) came to this program, he’s changed us completely,” Zingaro said. “It’s like he’s a miracle worker.”
Neshannock, which captured the No. 15 seed with the win, will move on to face second-seeded Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, at OLSH.
“We know it’s a good OLSH team,” Frank said. “We know they’re undefeated in the section, but I think what we’re thinking is that if we can play fundamental ball, we can be competitive.”