Delone Catholic coach Jason Leppo's prediction came true Tuesday night.
The Squirettes beat Pope John Paul II, 25-22, 25-14, 17-25, 19-25, 15-13, in a PIAA Class AA girls' volleyball semifinal at Garden Spot High School to earn a berth in the state championship. Leppo guessed in late September his team could advance this far.
The Squirettes (25-0) beat Trinity 3-2 on Sept. 29 without their best player, senior Allie Mondorff, and with junior varsity players in a lineup they hadn't practiced. Leppo was impressed with the performance when close friend Jim Smith asked how well the team could be.
"'Jim, I think this team might be able to win a district championship and maybe even a state championship,'" Leppo recalled saying. "That was the moment, being able to find a way to win that match without arguably one of the best players to play at Delone and never even blinking when things went wrong."
His team needed resilience in its seesaw fifth game to advance to the title match at 1 p.m. Saturday at Central York High School. It will play District 10 champion Fort LeBoeuf, which beat District 7 champion Mars, 19-25, 25-23, 12-25, 25-13, 15-3, in the other PIAA Class AA semifinal.
The Squirettes jumped to an 8-3 lead Tuesday before the Panthers (18-1) called a timeout. Leppo told his team not to let Pope John Paul II rally, but the Panthers scored the next five points to even the score at 8. They then took leads of 12-10 and 13-12.
Delone rebounded by calling upon a drill it does in practice called "13 to 10." In it, a team pretends it's down 13-10 in a final game and needs to rally to avoid a loss. Northeastern coach Matt Wilson gave Leppo the idea.
"You're down 13-10 and you play on from there," Leppo said. "Your backs are against the wall. There's nothing as a coach I can do to fix this. You have to trust your team will find a way to fix it. I heard them yelling, 'It's just like that drill in practice. It's just like that drill in practice.'
"As a coach, I wish I could say there was some magical words I said to them, but there wasn't. That's all on them, somehow finding a way to remain calm because I sure as heck wasn't."
Delone rallied to even the game at 13 and scored the final two points to advance to the state championship for the first time since 2001. The Squirettes have never won a state title.
Also at stake Saturday is their perfect record.
"When you look back, it's hard to believe you have come this far without losing," Mondorff said. "It's exciting. (A state title) was one of our goals at the beginning of the year, a long-distance thing. We just kept going further, further and further."
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