By: Tim Birney | | October 29, 2022 | Photo courtesy David Alliger


ATHENS — Athens overcame a first set loss and gutted out a 3-1 win over Northeast Bradford during District 4, Class AA quarter-final action here Saturday afternoon.

“It feels amazing,” said Wildcat senior Jenny Ryan. “Usually, we don’t get this far in districts, but we just really wanted it, so it feels really good to get this.”

NEB would rally for a 25-21 first set win, but Athens pulled away for 25-19 and 25-16 wins in the second and third sets. The Wildcats would build a 12-3 lead in the fourth set, only to watch the Panthers come back to take a 19-18 lead.

However, Athens out pointed them 7-3 after that to get the 25-22 deciding set victory.

Ryan finished with 21 assists, 10 digs, eight kills, six blocks, and three points — picking up two crucial fourth-set points on a block and kill that led them to the win.

“It was just a huge momentum boost because we were down seven points in serve-receive passes,” said Ryan. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do something.’ And I think that just boosted our momentum a lot.”

They were strong defensively all match long, with 18 blocks, and 65 digs.

“Our blocking on the outside has really stepped up,” said Athens coach Heather Hanson. “Cassy Friend has been a force, as far as blocking.”

Seniors Cailin McDaniel, Cassy Friend, Audrey Clare, and Ryan combined for the majority of the blocks on the day.

“Their timing is great,” said Hanson.

And on the back row she complimented sophomore Ella Coyle’s leadership.

“(She) really stepped in today with digging everything,” said Hanson. “Just taking that back roll on.”

Coyle finished with 16 digs, four points, and three aces, while Clare finished with a team high 11 kills, four blocks, two assists, eight digs, and one point.

Kassie Babcock had six kills, 14 digs, three points, two aces, and was 10-for-10 in serve receives, and Keaton Wiles finished with three kills, three digs, and one block.

Friend had three kills, and three blocks, and McDaniel finished with four blocks, three digs, one kill, four points, and three aces. Junior Izzy Davis chipped in with three points, and 11 digs.

The first set was nip-and-tuck until 12-12 when Athens scored six of the next seven points to take an 18-13 lead. However, NEB rallied, and would tie it at 20-20.

From there, the Panthers out scored them 5-1 to take the first set home.

“That first game, when we just couldn’t break away I was like, ‘oh boy,’” said Hanson. “We can play with confidence at some points, if it’s like 10-point lead, but when it’s a little sketchy, it starts to be that careful play and stuff.”

They played with confidence the next two sets, leading both from the first serve to the last point.

The final set looked like it was going to be a blow out as they jumped out to a 9-point lead, but NEB rallied behind the serving of Gabby Susanj, who had five aces in a row, and six during her serve, to make it 17-17.

Ryan would end the run with a block, but NEB tied it back up again as an Athens push kill was out.

A kill would give NEB a 19-18 lead, but that’s when the Wildcats went on a 3-0 run thanks to back-to-back kills from Clare and Ryan, while Babcock followed with an ace to give them a 2-point lead.

The two teams traded service errors, followed by two straight missed attacks from Athens to knot it up at 22-all.

However, a service error from NEB put Athens up 23-22. Ryan then had a decisive block for the 2-point lead, and an attack into the net from NEB ended the match.

Hanson believes that the fourth set was a learning moment for her team.

“That’s all I’ve been talking the girls this whole season is, it’s how we react to if we’re not winning, we’re learning,” she said. “How do you react if you don’t win a rally, and sometimes it seems like we have to have these four or five point things before we’re like, ‘oh, maybe it’s time to turn it around.’ We can’t do that, and we can’t do that again.”

Athens will now get the top seeded NP-Liberty Mountaineers Tuesday, back at its home gym. NPL went undefeated in the league for the sixth year in a row, but the Wildcats feel they can match up with them, as they lost two of the matches by just a few points.

“It’s all about momentum in this last game, especially against Liberty,” said Hanson. “And all I ask of the girls is to leave it all out there, but with their voices. We have the skills.”

They hope to lead with their defense once again, as that will be the focus at practice on Monday.

“I think that we just really need to work on our defense,” said Ryan. “Come into Liberty prepared, and show them what Athens volleyball really is.”


About the Author

Tim Birney Author Bio
Tim Birney

Tim Birney is the founder / owner of River Road Media Group. He was born and raised in the Valley, graduating from Waverly High School in 1984.

Birney earned an Associate's Degree in Journalism from SUNY Morrisville in 1986 and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism / Public Relations from Utica College of Syracuse University in 1988. He began his newspaper career at The Daily Review in Towanda in 1989, before moving on to The Evening Times in 1995. He spent more than 10 years at the Times, the last four as Managing Editor.

River Road Media Group includes five sites in "The Sports Reports" family that cover 24 school districts in five counties: Valley Sports Report (launched Aug. 10, 2009), Tioga County (NY) Sports Report (Aug. 13, 2018), and Northern Tier Sports Report (Aug. 31, 2020); Northern Tier West Sports Report (March 15, 2021) Southern Tier Sports Report (Aug. 16, 2021).