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Canton defeats Blue Ridge in first round of PIAA playoffs in volleyball

Multiple Canton players were on the floor, and all of a sudden a right arm emerged. It was Annie Gaiotti’s, and that arm made a play that will live in Canton volleyball lore.

Her fist closed to avoid a lift call, Gaiotti swung while sitting on the floor, the ball hit the top of the tape, and trickled over to land at the feet of a stunned Blue Ridge squad, giving the Warriors a 25-16 first set win. That hustle play encapsulated the hustle and energy the Warriors had up and down the lineup Tuesday as they breezed past Blue Ridge 3-0, (25-16, 25-16, 25-8).

The Warriors will take on District 11 champion Marian Catholic on Saturday at Marian Catholic at a time to be determined.

“There were a couple times we ended up losing (points where we hustled),” Canton coach Shelia Wesneski said. “To see us stick with it and keep hustling, that’s really rewarding.”

Whether it was Gaiotti on the floor, Carmya Martell tracking down passes to get sets up for the Warrior hitters, or Jillian Shay absorbing Blue Ridge serves, the Warrior defense was as good as it has been all year, something they know is crucial if they want to keep their season going.

“We were beating the ball to the spot,” Wesneski said. “We work on movement a lot in practice and we were always moving tonight and not giving up… Defense comes from the heart.”

Offensively, Canton was buoyed by a strong serving performance up and down the lineup. Shay and Martell both had six aces of the team’s 16 official aces, and at least that many serves that were not technically aces resulted directly in Warrior points.

Six different Warriors recorded at least one ace.

“We practiced serving all the time,” said Gaiotti. “It came in clutch (Tuesday night).”

Gaiotti herself came up clutch. The senior standout outside hitter was tremendous, hitting well over .500 on the evening. Repeatedly she went down the line against the Raider defense and it proved to be fruitful as she had 11 kills.

“Once we started playing and I saw where their girls were I just saw holes and tried to find those holes,” Gaiotti said. “I assumed they would adjust a little and I’d have to go crosscourt but they didn’t and so I kept going (down the) line.”

Gaiotti was not the only Warrior to find success offensively. Helped by senior setter Carmya Martell’s 21 assists, Rachel Martin, Gracie Covert, and Aislyn Williams all were efficient options for Canton.

“Hitters, especially outside, think power all the time,” Wesneski said. “Tonight, they used their placement well because we knew that Blue Ridge had a strong block.”

The Warriors tipped and dumped all around the Blue Ridge block, led by intimidating Senior Hunter Heenan.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to go through their block,” Gaiotti said. “Their block was pretty split so I just attacked that seam,”

Gracie Covert stepped up in a big way Tuesday Night as her four kills helped balance the offense and her block of Heenan in the first set helped establish the tone of the night.

“Gracie (Covert) had her best game of the season tonight,” Wesneski said.

Canton really did not face any adversity Tuesday night. They jumped out to quick leads in all three sets, and, buoyed by an energetic crowd atypical of this COVID-impacted year, fed off that energy.

“It was a lot louder,” Gaiotti said, “Personally I like playing with it more loud and more intense.”

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