Carlynton girls volleyball comes together late in season
Only in the end did the Carlynton girls volleyball team realize its full potential. And while the epiphany came too late to extend its WPIAL Class AA playoff run past the preliminary round -- the Cougars lost 3-1 to Burrell -- the die has been cast for future teams.
Under second-year coach Amber Seibel, the Cougars improved their section record from 2-10 in 2017 to 6-6 this season. The sixth win was the biggest and the most telling.
Carlynton traveled to Steel Valley for the final regular-season match, a match that would send the winner to the playoffs and the loser into the offseason. When the teams met at Carlynton earlier in the season, the Cougars eked out a 3-2 victory. The rematch, however, was all Carlynton as it rolled to a 3-0 sweep and into the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
“For some reason, we had the adrenaline,” said libero Airys Gould, one of a core group of six seniors. “We understood that we had to be together in order for this to work, and you could tell if you had seen us before: Somebody was always playing for themselves.
“There was so much communicating, so much cheering going on.”
Added Seibel: “We expected a struggle, but we went in and cleaned house real quick. Everyone was on point. Everyone was playing happy, fun volleyball.”
That’s the template Gould and her fellow seniors hope to leave for the next wave of playoff hopefuls. Seibel, too, has her template for getting the most out of the team.
Being a rookie head coach last season, Seibel admitted there was an adjustment for her and her staff. They had to figure out what buttons to push and what strategies worked.
Part of that entailed competing in more tournaments where the Cougars could see better competition. They won their first tournament at Chartiers-Houston, then got a reality check when they faced bigger schools like West Allegheny at the Moon tournament. That same weekend, the JVs competed at Mt. Lebanon.
“The word I use is ‘systematic,’ ” Seibel said. “A lot of these competitive teams who win all the time are systematic in their approach. They all practice the same way. They have similar mentalities. That really caught on.”
The next step in the progression is for the younger players to maintain the upward trajectory of the program. That will fall on players such as junior setter Jaelyn Melko and sophomore outside hitter Emmaline Stevens.
Gould said she believes the underclassmen can take another step.
“They definitely know what the seniors are looking for after we leave,” she said. “I just think (they know) the outline of how a season should go, and not just at the end but from the beginning.
“Everyone saw how powerfully it impacted us seniors once we got to the playoffs, and it was over just like that. But I’m glad it happened rather than never happening at all.”
Seibel was, understandably, disappointed by the loss to Burrell, especially after the way the Cougars earned their spot in the playoffs. But the sting of the quick exit couldn’t overshadow the team’s turnaround.
“When we lost (to Burrell), we were upset,” Seibel said. “But I told them we’re not going to move a mountain in a day. The progress we made this year compared to last year was incredible. This is the group that set an example of how play is supposed to go.”