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Penn College Women Second in PSUAC Third Year in Row

The women's volleyball team gathers around the Penn College mascot during a recent 'Meet the Wildcats' night on campus.Very little separated the top two women’s volleyball teams in the Penn State University Athletic Conference. In fact, according to Pennsylvania College of Technology coach Bambi Hawkins, it was just a matter of inches.

For the third straight season, Penn College finished second in the PSUAC, forcing Penn State Beaver to a decisive third match to decide the title Sunday, before falling 30-24, 30-24.

“In the end, they were bigger girls. When you’ve got a volleyball team that is 5-foot-5 on average, you’re at a disadvantage,” Hawkins said, pointing out that Penn State Beaver had several players who were 6-foot or taller.

“Our team played clean volleyball. They looked awesome and, as Hazleton ‘s coach said, “˜ Penn College is the team to beat again this year.’ Even though Beaver’s record was better in the regular season, teams are always out to get Penn College ,” Hawkins continued. “Our ladies fought their hearts out and I think they’re pretty happy with second place.”

Penn College, the regular season champ in the North Division, and Penn State Beaver, West Division titlist, both drew byes in the first round of the six-team, double-elimination championships at University Park.

In the second round, Penn College outdid Penn State New Kensington, 30-28, 27-30, 15-11 while Beaver topped Penn State Mont Alto. Key players for the Wildcats in the win over New Kensington were freshman Courtney Barton, of Liberty, with six kills and four blocks; freshman Karlee Shubert, of Hanover, with four kills and four blocks; and senior Maria Bova, of Bethlehem, and junior Jackie Sampson, of Liberty, with 15 and 14 digs, respectively.

“Our girls were ready to play volleyball. They had done everything I asked them to do,” Hawkins said. And players put Hawkins’ concern to rest early about their mental approach to the game.

“We went to breakfast as a team and did some visualization, at the request of one of the team captains, and just got them in the mind-set of volleyball. The week before in practice, they were getting their minds geared up, too,” Hawkins said.

Penn College then handed Penn State Beaver its first conference loss of the season and first loss in the tournament, 27-30, 30-19, 15-5. Stat leaders for the Wildcats in that match were sophomore Angela Sweeley, of Mansfield, with six kills; sophomore Alyssa Covas, of Pottsville, with eight blocks; and sophomore Michelle McNett, of Canton, with 12 digs.

“They hadn’t lost even a game in our conference. We gave them not only their first game loss, but their match loss. “¦ We were definitely the team to beat. We didn’t just squeak by, we beat them in style,” Hawkins said. “When you watched it, it was very solid volleyball.”

Penn State Beaver then eliminated Penn State New Kensington to force its second match with Penn College .

Despite some outstanding play from Shubert (five kills and six blocks), Sweeley (seven kills), Covas (five blocks), Bova (17 digs) and McNett (13 digs), Penn College fell to Beaver, 30-26, 19-30, 13-15.

“It was tight. The final game was 13- 15,” Hawkins pointed out.

Despite that setback, Hawkins said her players were “still looking good. They were still playing clean volleyball.”

That set up the deciding match between the Wildcats and Penn State Beaver.

Bova, who played at the Libero position, served up three aces and and 17 digs, but it wasn’t enough.

“When you have ladies who aren’t the biggest, you don’t get all those tight ones at the net. I think that’s where our disadvantage was. When there were some tight plays at the net, their team capitalized on that. Their size mattered in that case,” Hawkins said.

The Wildcats finished 2-2 on the day and ended their season 18-8 overall, 16- 4 in all conference matches.

“It was pretty incredible,” Hawkins said of the growth the team experienced throughout the season.

“I stood back and watched them play for awhile for that last time,” she continued, feeling the emotion of the moment. “Our girls played clean, solid volleyball. They looked good. As a volleyball player and coach, it was absolutely enjoyable to watch them play. It was the kind of volleyball you want to see. They had grown in maturity and their skills.”

The team will lose Bova, McNett, Sweeley and Karla Neiman (New Oxford) to graduation, but, looking ahead to next year, Hawkins said, “I’m actually hoping no offense to any of my little tiny girls who worked so hard that we get some height.”