Defense leads the way as Bulldogs cruise to District 10 championship

The Bulldogs are back on top.

After missing the District 10 championship last year, Meadville swept Saegertown 3-0 (25-18, 25-9, 25-21) in Wednesday’s title match at Allegheny College. The Bulldogs have won four of the last five District 10 championships.

“It feels good. It feels good to be back here. We worked really hard to get here,” Meadville head coach Nick Bancroft said. “They work hard all the time so to be back on top is a testament to how hard they work. They deserve it.”

Meadville (17-0) and Saegertown (14-3) were the top two teams in the region this season. All three of Saegertown’s losses have been at the hands of the Bulldogs, though the Panthers took one set in each of their regular season matchups.

On Wednesday, each team showed off their offensive prowess in the opening set. Meadville’s Luc Soerensen, Parker Gosnell and Tymir Phillips took turns hammering monster spikes into Saegertown’s backcourt. On the other side, Saegertown seniors Collin Jones, Cody Huson and Sam Draa smacked plenty of kills the Bulldogs’ way.

With a tie at 14, Meadville took a timeout. From there, the ‘Dogs ended the set on a 11-4 run for an opening set win.

In the second set, it was Meadville’s defense that took over.

“If you’re gonna win that’s the old saying, defense wins championships. It’s frustrating to be on the other side of that,” Bancroft said. “When we played Saegertown before, Cochranton too, they played really good defense against us and frustrated us, so we wanted to reciprocate that to everybody else.”

Senior Luca White made several highlight reel defensive plays. His digs kept numerous plays alive and allowed Meadville to build a 10-2 lead.

“Volleyball is a team game but at some points it’s individual,” White said. “To put the ball up and let the rest of the team handle it, it means everything.”

Meadville’s defense took Saegertown out of the set and the Bulldogs cruised to a 25-9 win to go up 2-0 in the match.

“That was the best defensive night we’ve had. We frustrated them, no doubt, in that second set. They made a lot of errors,” Bancroft said. “Our stat sheet offensively won’t look as good because we frustrated them on the defensive end.

“We’ve been preaching that from that get-go. That was our motto all week. We gotta play better defense.”

Meadville ran out to a 17-10 lead in the third set. The Panthers recovered to make it a two-point deficit at 23-21, but ran out of steam.

“They frustrated us in the second set for sure. They had a couple really nice digs, a couple really nice plays,” Saegertown head coach Justin Johnson said. “We did some really uncharacteristic things and that’s because they were doing those things. Not taking any credit away from Meadville.

“They played great defense and were getting lot of touches and wore us down a little bit in that second set.”

White finished the game with nine digs to pace the Bulldogs and spearhead the defense on their way to a district title.

“It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s just, after last year, a good step in the right direction,” White said. “Everything we worked for in the offseason and in the regular season led us to this moment. To be able to push it out and get that medal means everything.”

Defense leads to offense, and Soerensen led that effort. The 6-feet 8-inch tall sophomore had 12 kills and three blocks. Senior and Mount Union commit Jack Brown dished 25 assists and added seven digs. Phillips tallied six kills.

“We’ve been a good program for as long as I can remember, since my seventh grade year when I managed them,” Soerensen said. “It’s really good to be back on top.”

Soerensen, just a little more than a week from winning a gold medal with the U.S. U19 team in Puerto Rico, said that environment helped prepare him for the loud and emotional gymnasium at the David V. Wise Center at Allegheny.

“Going to Puerto Rico was super cool,” Soerensen said. “It was full, packed and everybody is screaming at you. But this wasn’t a walk in the park, I was definitely nervous.”

Meadville will advance to the PIAA tournament. The Bulldogs will host the WPIAL runner-up, Armstrong, on Tuesday at a time to be announced. Saegertown will also move on to the state tournament. The Panthers will play at Mars, the WPIAL champion, on Tuesday.

“I think the big message is we get to play again. We get a second chance, which you don’t always get in life. That’s good for us,” Johnson said. “We get to go down to play on the road in Mars. That might be what we need.”

After facing the Bulldogs when they’re playing all-world level defense, the Panthers should be ready for a state playoff run.

“They’re obviously very good. We’re prepared now to play against pretty much anybody, they are that good,” Johnson said. “We have to stick together as a unit and as a team and do things a little differently, especially when we get down a little bit in these big matches.”