NP-Liberty falls in state final, earns silver
CUMBERLAND VALLEY – North Penn-Liberty’s Maddison Minyo had just recorded another one of her patented sharp angle kills in the near cross court and North Penn-Liberty led 5-2 in the third set of Saturday’s PIAA Class AA championship against North Catholic.
It looked like the Mounties — who had won the first two sets — were about to romp right through the Trojanettes in three sets like they had the three state opponents before it.
Then, as quickly as that thought passes through ones mind, the momentum changed in a big way. North Catholic, through the rifle of a right arm of Dominique Felix (24 kills) reeled off seven straight points to lead 9-5 and forced a North Penn-Liberty timeout.
The Trojanettes never trailed again.
An incredible offensive onslaught saw North Catholic hand North Penn-Liberty (23-1) its first and only loss of the season, 3-2.
“Coach told us to put everything out on the floor because we were already down 2-0 and that’s what changed,” Felix said. “We started to pass and control the ball better and that made a huge difference.”
Felix was everywhere in the last three sets. The Sacred Heart-bound senior had an average first two sets and actually gave North Penn-Liberty its 25th point of the second set on a hitting error into the net, but her level of play went through the roof the last three sets and the Mounties had no answer.
“There was a point in game three that the message was just ‘get (Felix) the ball,'” North Catholic coach Amanda Fetter said. “She’s so big and strong. She’s a division one athlete for a reason.”
Early on, the North Catholic attack was stagnant and predictable with Felix mostly getting swings from the left pin. That changed in the third set.
“Once we started spreading out our offense that started to cause (North Penn-Liberty) problems,” said Felix. “Give them a lot of credit. They were making incredible defensive plays and getting crazy balls back over. They made us earn it.”
North Penn-Liberty sure did. The defense for the Mounties was tremendous again, especially after the first set where neither team had a great read on the other team’s attack. The second set was trademark North Penn-Liberty volleyball with junior libero Ali Koval (31 digs) flying all over the court and making incredible digs.
When North Catholic rallied from 16-11 down to tie the set at 23-23, North Penn Liberty did what it has done up to that point all year which was win the big points. Maddison Minyo painted the line with a kill to give them set point and after a nice Mountie serve, Felix was forced to take an off balance swing and put it into the net to make it two sets to none.
The first set was a combination of good Mountie hitting and unforced Trojanette errors as North Penn-Liberty slowly stretched out its lead over the set and won it 25-17.
The third set got away from the Mounties in a hurry after the early lead. NPL was forced to call another timeout at 14-7. They played the rest of the set closer than that, but still fell 25-16. At the time, it was only the second set in a PIAA regulation match the Mounties had lost all year.
But, the intensity and never-ending confidence North Penn-Liberty had possessed all year was suddenly gone.
“There were a lot of nerves today. I think that was a big part of it,” North Penn-Liberty coach Jennifer Nawri said. “Give credit to North Catholic, they have some big swingers and some of those kills took us out of our rhythm. We just never could get our momentum back.”
By the time the Mounties finally found some semblance of that trademark energy in the fourth set, North Catholic was playing nearly flawless and fearless volleyball.
The Mounties ran into a team who started to play its very best volleyball at the exact right time. Their serve receive, which had hurt them in the first two sets, was now getting the Trojanettes in system quickly. The only thing not going right for them in the fourth set was serving errors, as they made eight of them in the set. They only allowed six points otherwise and took the match to a decisive fifth set with a 25-14 set four win.
Both crowds rose to their feet in a packed gym at Cumberland Valley High School in the fifth set, with the Mountie faithful trying to spur their team on to one last burst of brilliance. Instead, that brilliance came from the right arm of Felix and her Trojanette teammates. The Mounties fought hard, but when a North Penn-Liberty attack sailed long, North Catholic had captured their first ever state title, 15-7 in the fifth and final set.
“We lost (WPIAL championship game to Freeport) when we were up 2-0 and so we knew how it felt and it was not going to happen again,” said Felix.
For the Mounties, it is a season that those in the area will not soon forget. They finish the year losing only four sets to Pennsylvania teams. The phenomenal senior class of Minyo, Lizzi Welch, Grace Tice, Patelin Nowak, Hannah Bowens, and JoAnne McNamara will leave the program with more wins and district titles than any other class in program history.
“I’m going to miss having these seniors around. … What a group. What a team,” Nawri said.
“We don’t get to recruit. We’re given what we’re given,” said Minyo. “We’re just a bunch of small-town girls who love volleyball and give it everything we have every time we take the floor.”
All year long, they fought like champions. They’ll finish as NTL champions, district champions, champions of the eastern part of Pennsylvania and for many, one of the best girl volleyball teams they have ever had the pleasure of watching.