For a brief moment, the thought of Delone Catholic dropping a set at home seemed possible.
The Squirettes won the first two games against York Catholic on Thursday night but found themselves tied 18-18 during a hard-fought third set. For a team that has dropped only one set in division play this season, it was a little hard to believe.
But the Squirettes quickly put to rest the thought of them losing anything on Thursday, scoring five straight points before eventually claiming the match, 25-8, 25-18, 25-20. While Delone Catholic hasn't officially clinched the YAIAA Division III title, it now sits two games above York Catholic with two weeks left in the regular season.
But for a team that has won six straight division titles and four straight league championships, there are bigger things to strive for.
"The day we don't win the division, that will be news," head coach Jason Leppo said. "I think anyone who knows us and knows our kids and how they think, they know what our goals are."
The Squirettes (10-1, 8-0) are ranked first in District 3 Class 2A and are gunning for their fourth straight appearance in the district title game. But to hear the players tell it, they still have plenty to learn.
Delone Catholic lost most of the key players from last year's team, including Katie Laughman, Sarah Senft and Amber Johnson. And with current seniors Syndney Dockins and Kristen Morrow out of the lineup right now with injuries, the Squirettes have needed plenty of new players to emerge this season.
One of those players is junior and new setter Chloe Kindig, who finished with 23 assists and six aces against the Irish. Seniors Claire Kaufmann (12 kills,one ace, two digs) and Karigen Emig (seven kills, two assists, 13 digs) also had big games Thursday.
"We're not a team that can slack off. We're not last year and we don't have all those hitters, we just have to play fast," Kindig said. "I'm still learning. I haven't (been a setter) for a while, I just try to stay calm and the court and be a leader.
Kaufmann added: "We're still growing and getting used to working together. Katie (Laughman) was all-state, but Chloe has really stepped up to the plate."
Leppo said he's glad his players realize they still have plenty to learn even though they've had success this season. While the team was challenged more and more by York Catholic as the match went on Thursday, the experience of playing in tight sets could benefit the Squirettes in the playoffs.
And while Leppo is hoping to have a healthier team in a few weeks, the coach said he's comfortable with its depth.
"As long as we have have six (players) we'll be okay, we just have to figure it out," Leppo said. "We want to be constantly pushing ourselves to new levels. Even our best years, it's always just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do, tactically and technically."
York Catholic coach Phil Autrey was also missing key players Thursday, with starters Izzy Johnson and Bella Kepner both out of the lineup. While it was the second time the Irish were swept by Delone this season, Autrey was impressed his team improved throughout the game.
"They could have decided to roll over against a good team they're not supposed to beat, or they could try to compete," Autrey said. "I thought the second and third games, once they settled their nerves down, they played really well."