Oct. 27—CAIRNBROOK — Conemaugh Township didn't have to meet Shade in the regular season to know what buttons to press.
The sixth-seeded Indians hardly appeared stressed while forcing the third-seeded Panthers into numerous mistakes on the way to an efficient 25-10, 25-18, 25-19 sweep in the District 5 Class 1A quarterfinals on Thursday night.
The defending district champions secured a place in the semifinals, where they'll face No. 2 seed Tussey Mountain in a match set for 7 p.m. Monday.
Aside from brief stints early on in the second and third sets, Conemaugh Township looked every bit of the team that rallied for back-to-back wins against West Shamokin and Marion Center to claim the Heritage Conference title on Tuesday.
"I just think the kids are really gelling and working as a team," said Conemaugh Township coach Laura Swank on what has ignited the Indians as of late. "They're not giving up.
"They're encouraging one another.
"When a team stays together, things go well. Right now, that's what we're doing."
Junior middle hitter Ava Byer racked up a match-high 12 kills to pair with 15 digs. Sophomore Madee Roman provided 11 kills and 16 digs.
Senior Kendra Huber also chipped in 11 kills. Senior setter Alison Matera passed out 35 assists.
A kill from Byer put the Indians in front 13-7 in the second frame.
The Panthers clawed their way back into the match by tying it at 15-all and seemingly finding some sort of rhythm offensively.
All of that positive momentum was erased when Conemaugh Township turned the tide with a 6-2 run to go up 21-17. Three straight kills, including two by Roman, closed out the set as the Indians went up 2-0.
Shade, which was coming off a WestPAC championship loss to Ferndale on Monday, failed to find much of a solution to defending a relentless Conemaugh Township attack.
The Panthers (16-5) had won their final five regular-season matches before back-to-back losses brought their season to an end.
"We came out sluggish, kind of afraid and too worried to make a mistake in the first set," Shade coach Emma Spinelli said. "We did battle in the second and third (sets). I saw those spurts of the fight and the will to win. We just couldn't sustain that for a long enough time."
Shade's Kennedy Landis recorded a team-high six kills, while Jayda Ferko added five. Allie Deneen and Deborah Bozovich each contributed four kills.
On the brink of elimination, Shade managed to draw even at 14-all after a kill by Bozovich. Once again, the Indians rallied for eight of the next 11 points to take a 22-17 lead on a perfectly placed kill from Byer.
Sophomore outside hitter Laikyn Reynolds sealed the match by winning a 50-50 ball at the net.
While the move to a new conference has been taxing at times, the Indians have weathered the storm and are playing at a level they believe can bring them back-to-back titles for the first time in school history.
"Honestly, I trust them 100%," said Swank of her squad moving forward in the playoffs. "We work on our weaknesses, and we really dissect everything in practice. I'm there to support and guide them, but overall, they're like a well-oiled machine."