NEW CASTLE —
The Shenango High girls volleyball team has been down this road before and it showed.
The Lady Wildcats, despite their relative youth, acted the part of battle-tested veterans by quickly dismissing Vincentian Academy 25-9, 25-12, 25-18 in the opening round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs at Pine-Richland High School last night.
“Except for the freshmen, everyone else played in the playoffs last year,” said Shenango coach Angela Heagy, who has one senior, five juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen in her rotation. “They were excited and ready to go. They’ve been through a lot these past few years. I don’t think they’re going to see much that they haven’t seen already.
“It got a little competitive there in the second and third matches. It was a nice warmup for us for the rest of the playoffs.”
With the win, the fourth-seeded Lady Wildcats (15-1) will play Section 3-A rival and 12th-seeded Neshannock (14-3), which upset South Side Beaver, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, on Tuesday at a site and time to be announced. The winner will earn one of four state playoff berths.
“They’re a competitive program and we know to not underestimate them,” Heagy said of the Lady Lancers. “It helps that we’ve played them before and we kind of know what to expect, but we’re still going to train hard and be prepared for them.”
Shenango barely broke a sweat in the first game, cruising to the easy victory behind some strong serving of Jade Esposito, Irene Koury, Angelina Sibeto and Shelby McCart.
Koury and McCart served up four straight aces midway through the first game and Esposito closed it out with seven consecutive points.
“We’ve been working on the jump serve all season,” Heagy said. “It’s been hit or miss. I give them the option of staying down if they don’t feel confident in it, but they get after it. They’re a very competitive group.”
McCart and Sibeto continued their strong serving in the second game to provide a boost to the Lady ’Cats, who appeared to take their foot off the gas and allowed Vincentian Academy to stay within striking distance for much of the game.
“If we beat someone by as much as we did in that first game, the girls get a little comfortable and need a little wake-up call,” Heagy said. “I feel better they had a little bit of competition now rather than later and had to work for the win, because that’s going to tell them that it’s time to go.”
Shenango struggled mightily in the early going of the third game, falling behind 9-4.
Esposito and Katie Lacey lent a combined five points as the Lady Wildcats roared back to take a 16-13 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Sometimes, we let a team get a jump on us — I’d say that’s one of our weak points,” Heagy said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s a good learning point for them to not let teams get up by five or six points. It’s nice for the girls to feel that pressure now and respond to it appropriately in a game situation.”
The Lady Wildcats were led by Esposito’s 17 digs and Jacqui Baker’s seven kills, while Sibeto chipped in four aces.
“For a middle hitter to lead a team in kills is huge,” Heagy said of Baker’s performance. “They get half the attempts that the outside hitters get. For Jacqui to get that many kills and lead the team in kills as a freshman is huge. She shows so much promise.
“Jade Esposito has always been this team’s ace in the hole. She’s just fantastic back there. She did a really nice job. Christina Rapone always does a nice job of setting for the varsity. She keeps it at a really nice tempo. Nicole Watkins did a really nice job on the right side and Irene Koury doesn’t always stand out, but she’s one of the most consistent players this program has seen. Angelina Sibeto and Shelby McCart just cover the floor. Katie Lacey is one of the most volleyball-savvy players I’ve coached.”