Lady Cougars make the final
Cassadaga Valley advances to Class D1 Sectional final at JCC
SINCLAIRVILLE — It took everything the Cassadaga Valley Lady Cougars had to escape their first two sets against the Ellicottville Lady Eagles, but the Lady Cougars were able to dig deep and push past the visitors in that pair of sets. Those two set wins, combined with their third set domination, propelled the Lady Cougars to a three-set victory in the Class D1 semifinals at Cassadaga Valley High School, 25-19, 25-18, 25-8 to advance to the Class D1 championship game on Thursday at Jamestown Community College.
The first set in particular had Cassadaga Valley coach Denny Wakelee and the packed facility at the Art Asquith Gym biting their nails, as the Lady Eagles jumped out to an early lead in the first set, as Ellicottville answered every Lady Cougars point with two of their own. The Lady Cougars weren’t able to even pull even until very late in the opening frame.
“I’m going to say nerves, I don’t know what else to call it,” Wakelee said. “We started pretty slow, and we didn’t end up even until it was 16-16. We were able to pull away a little bit, but it was close the whole way and the girls had to dig deep.”
The Lady Cougars had a 7-0 run at the end of the first set to finally get the edge they needed to find victory in the first set, as senior Heidi Williams was the one serving for the run. Wakelee knows that when she is in a groove, she is tough to stop.
“When she gets in the rhythm, she has that nice little floater. That’s hard to play back,” Wakelee said.
The second set started in a similar fashion, with Ellicottville scoring the first two points. This time though, the Cougars were able to get right back in it, and jumped out to a commanding lead of their own, at one point leading 15-8.
The Lady Eagles weren’t about to go down though. After Cassadaga Valley scored their 15th point of the set, Ellicottville was able to rip off six consecutive points of their own to force it back to 15-14. Once again though, the Lady Cougars were forced to dig deep against the Lady Eagles, whose record is a deceptive 7-13 on the season.
“They’re better than their record,” Wakelee said. “They pass well, they cover well. They played well. I know they’re in a tough division. They play Olean, Portville, Randolph, Allegany-Limestone, so I didn’t care what their record was because their division was so tough.”
The third set is when the Lady Cougars kicked it into gear, as they were able to pound the Lady Eagles after what was a valiant effort by Ellicottville. The Lady Cougars were in control of the set from the finish, scoring the first four points, emphasized by a block by Meghan LeBaron, who had six blocks on the evening, all seemingly coming in that third set. Though the Lady Cougars started with an excitement that translated to nerves, it turned into dominance for Cassadaga Valley.
“I think they’re excited about being this far in the playoffs,” Wakelee said. “They can say they’re relaxed all they want but there are definitely some nerves. Once we got the rust off, we played really solid at the end. We served better, passed better, and Meghan LeBaron had a ton of blocks. I think Ellicottville started to hang their heads a bit, and we were able to play off that.”
The Lady Cougars (14-6) will advance to play on the bigger stage, in the gym of JCC on 6 p.m. on Thursday night, against the Randolph Lady Cardinals. Randolph has had a strong season in its own right, with a regular season record of 16-3. Wakelee knows his girls will have their work cut out for them.
“They have a strong middle and hard hitting,” Wakelee said. “We’re going to have to do some more blocking. If Meghan (LeBaron) can get 100 more blocks like she did tonight, we’ll be okay. We’ll have one day of practice to work it out.”
NOTES: Cassadaga Valley’s Kaitlyn Dahl led the way with 27 assists, along with two kills; Meghan LeBaron had six kills, six blocks and five digs; Heidi Williams had six kills, as did Grace Warsitz; Kaylee Pattyson had five kills and a pair of blocks, while Brielle LeBaron had five kills and a block. … Ellicottville was led by Heli Kongats with six kills and four blocks, while Allison Rowland had four kills and 10 digs. Jenna Hadley had two aces, 10 assists and six digs; Makenna Smith had three kills and six digs, while Cora Norton had two aces and four digs.