SHAMOKIN - Finally, a team was going to take a set off of North Penn-Liberty in the state playoffs. After two three set sweeps to start the tournament and a 25-21 win to start the state semifinals. Trinity Catholic had finally made North Penn-Liberty face a set point, three to be exact. The Shamrock crowd rose their feet, as their team had stormed back from a 17-10 deficit to take a 24-21 lead. The thing that rose next was the Mounties’ level of play.
Lizzie Welch (7 blocks) rejected a player nearly a foot taller than her in 6’3 Lauren Trumpy. Next, NPL forced a Trinity hitting error and Maddison Minyo (12 kills, 13 Digs, four aces 17/18 on serve receive) had a thunderous kill down line to tie things up at 24. After another Welch block gave NPL a set point, it was time for the Mountie fateful to rise to their feet. When a Trinity attack found the tape of the net, the Mounties went wild.
The five point run, when they could’ve let a set slip through their fingers, personified the defining quality of these state finalists. Trinity was taller, deeper, and jumped higher. North Penn-Liberty was mentally tougher, simple as that.
“I knew if we could just win that next point (at 21-24) we could feed off of it and get back in the set. When these girls get rolling they feed off that energy and get going,” said first-year head coach Jennifer Nawri.
No player embodies that energy more than senior outside hitter Minyo.
Minyo, who has been nearly unstoppable down the stretch, is the emotional leader of the Mounties. She was spectacular Tuesday night at the Purple Palace in Shamokin. Frequently her and the Mounties other outside hitter Charisma Grega punished the Shamrocks down the line.
“We saw on film that they leave that open and I reminded them before the match and kept telling them during the match to keep going down line until their libero moved away from crosscourt,” said Nawri.
The down-line hits were there all night for Grega (12 kills, 17 digs, 15/16 on serve receive) and Minyo.
“They have a great libero and we knew should be crosscourt and that their block struggled to cover the pin so we hit it there all night,” Minyo said.
“We saw on film they were not going to cover it and they didn’t tonight and we kept going there. We knew they had those spots,” said Grega, who is closing in on 750 kills and 750 digs as a junior.
Grega and Minyo led the offensive attack, but the player many will remember from the biggest win in North Penn-Liberty history will be Mountie libero Ali Koval.
The Junior, who replaced graduated NTL defensive player of the year Savannah Doney, has been fantastic all season, but especially in the state tournament. She played her best match of the season to that point in the state quarterfinals against Panther Valley. That is, until last night. Time after time, the Shamrocks took aim at the diminutive Koval. Time after time she produced perfect pass after perfect pass. She finished with 31 digs and 21 serve receptions and only committed two errors, a scintillating stat line.
When asked if she felt she was elevating her level in these playoffs, Koval answered with a succinct “Yeah, I’d say so.”
“I just love playing great competition and it fuels me to do my best because it’s even more important for me to do my job.”
“She was everywhere, wasn’t she?” Coach Nawri said of Koval. “She’s been awesome, just phenomenal.”
The first set looked as if it would be a Liberty blowout, but the Shamrocks fought back from 11-6 and 20-14 deficits to only trail by one at 22-21. The next point would be the point of the match and would end in an unlikely hero ending it. After a rally that seemed to go on and on with both teams making spectacular digs all over the place, senior opposite hitter Hannah Bowens sent an overpass to the floor and the Mounties went on to win the next two points to close out the set, 25-21.
“It gets the girls so pumped up when a girl who maybe doesn’t get as many opportunities gets one and takes advantage of it,” Nawri said.
After the Mounties came back to win that classic second set, the state finals were in their sights against a visibly deflated Shamrocks team. By the time it was 12-5, Trinity was out of timeouts and it was a foregone conclusion that North Penn Liberty would emerge as the best AA volleyball team in Eastern Pennsylvania this year. A last gasp effort by Trinity got it to 23-17, but that’s as close as they would get. Fittingly, the Mountie’s senior leader in Minyo ended the match with one last kill. NPL’s players leapt high in the air and the bench rushed onto the court. Mountie fans were in pandemonium. What seemed unattainable even a week ago had now been conquered. North Penn-Liberty is heading to the state finals.
The Mounties will take on North Catholic out of Pittsburgh Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cumberland Valley High School for the state championship.
“I can’t believe it,” said Minyo “ I couldn’t have dreamt this. I never thought this was a possibility. We just wanted to beat (state first round opponent and the team that eliminated the Mounties the last three years) Holy Redeemer. I can’t even sleep at night. I try to and I start thinking about volleyball and I get all excited.”
Though this state tournament run may be the stuff of legends, it is no dream. North Penn-Liberty is the real deal.