The Shippensburg University volleyball team dropped a thrilling Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Semifinal in four sets on Friday night to Clarion, the No. 2 team in the Atlantic Region, at Heiges Field House. Set scores were 16-25, 25-16, 22-25 and 21-25.
Shippensburg (23-9) rallied from a slow start to be even with Clarion (25-5) through the first two sets and led 20-18 in the third set before the Golden Eagles used a 4-0 run to reclaim the lead and ultimately stem the tide with the third-set victory.
It was a high intensity start. The sides split the first two points on long rallies, then traded scores to 5-5 until the Golden Eagles got hot with an 8-0 service run by Abigail Selfridge to take a 14-5 lead. Another 4-1 run helped Clarion pull to a 20-9 lead. The Golden Eagles finished off the first set, but the Raiders took three of the last four points to build some momentum.
Clarion held an early 5-2 lead in the second before the Raiders hit an 8-2 scoring stretch that featured two aces from senior Maddie Clabaugh (Gettysburg, Pa./Delone Catholic) and three kills and an ace by freshman Hailey Cappleman (Winter Garden, Fla./Horizon). Clarion got a point back, but Shippensburg continued its momentum with a 4-0 service run by sophomore Kearstin Davis (San Antonio, Tex./Reagan) that included kills from Clabaugh and seniors Kaitlyn Townsend (Johnstown, Pa./Richland) and Kat Negron (Longwood, Fla./Lyman) to take a 15-8 advantage.
A timeout helped Clarion end the run and threaten a comeback with three of the next four points. The Raiders responded well with freshman Gracen Nutt (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg Area) earning two kills and Clabaugh serving an ace. A kill and a block assist by Negron gave the Raiders set point and Cappleman closed it out with a kill for a 25-16 set – the same margin that Clarion won the first set. SU finished the second set with a .400 hitting percentage and 15 kills.
The Golden Eagles had a strong start to the third period, taking a 6-2 lead. Consecutive kills from Clabaugh gave the Raiders some momentum, and a three-point service run by sophomore Berkley Simmons (Keedysville, Md./Williamsport) gave SU the lead at 9-8. Down 12-10, the Raiders used a 5-0 scoring run with Davis at service to take back the lead.
A 3-0 scoring run by Clarion tied the score at 15-15 and the Raiders responded with the next two points on kills by Clabaugh and Nutt. The sides exchanged points before the decisive 4-0 run from Clarion and the Golden Eagles closed out the exciting set with a 25-22 score.
Shippensburg had an excellent opening to the fourth set as two kills from Nutt and one from Townsend helped give the Raiders a 4-1 advantage. Clarion responded quickly, taking the next three points to tie the score. The Raiders and Golden Eagles went back and forth with several runs to a 9-9 score. Tied at 12-12, Clarion hit a 5-1 scoring run to take a 17-13 lead.
A 4-0 scoring run for Shippensburg brought it back to one point, but a 3-0 response from Clarion closed out a 25-21 fourth set to put the Golden Eagles in the championship.
Negron finished with a team-high 14 kills, one short of her season high, while equaling her career high with four block assists. Clabaugh went for eight kills on a .231 hitting percentage, adding three aces and eight digs.
Cappleman added 10 kills with a solo block and a block assist. Townsend had five kills and two block assists. Junior Emily Gardner (Avon, Ohio/Avon) finished with a career-high 25 digs and Davis posted 39 assists.
SU finished with 48 kills and hit .169, serving five aces and totaling six blocks. Friday night was a far cry from the regular-season meeting between the two teams back on the second day of the season. In that initial matchup, the Raiders had a season-low 21 kills, hit a season-low .021 and Davis had just 11 assists.
Friday marked the first time that SU and Clarion met in the PSAC Tournament since the 2019 PSAC Quarterfinals. It was the fourth time that coaches Leanne Piscotty (20th season, 426 career wins) and Jen Herron (17th season, 390 career wins) had their teams face each other in the PSAC Tournament, including the 2015 PSAC Championship match (SU’s only PSAC title) and the 2007 semifinals (3-1 Clarion at Heiges Field House).
Clarion’s Cassidy Snider was excellent, slamming a match-high 19 kills to just one error, hitting .419 on 43 attempts. Snider added 13 digs. Setter London Fuller had 39 assists and 16 digs, while Julia Piccolino was top-notch with 15 kills and 12 digs.
The Golden Eagles will face Gannon in the PSAC Championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Heiges Field House.