For much of the first set of Saturday's District 3 Class 4A playoff game, Central York looked like a team trying to find its identity.
Taking on South Western at Dallastown High School, the Panthers were playing without injured middle blocker Kamryn Stambaugh and trailed the No. 14 Mustangs, 17-13. While it was still early, it looked like the match was gearing up to be a close one.
The Panthers soon put that idea to rest.
Central York rallied, scoring five straight points before eventually winning the first set by four. The Panthers would go on to sweep the Mustangs, 25-21, 25-13, 25-16.
"We just had to get into a better rhythm. We're playing with a new lineup right now and we're still feeling things out," Central York head coach Nate Ocasio said. "You've got to give South Western credit, they're a scrappy team. Going into the first round, we knew it was going to be a tough draw."
With Stambaugh out of the lineup, Natalie Hawksworth came through with 11 kills, five blocks and three digs. Emma Saxton also provided 24 assists and nine digs, and Ashley Gallagher had six kills and 10 digs.
Having lost Strambaugh to injury while being swept by York Suburban in the YAIAA semifinals on Tuesday, Hawksworth said it wasn't easy for the Panthers to go into the district playoffs without her. Still, the senior said losing to the Trojans added to the team's motivation.
"Kamryn was our top scorer, so it was really an adjustment, but it made us work harder," she said. "We really wanted to win counties. Losing that, I wouldn't say it was heartbreak but it made us really want to push back to win districts."
While the Panthers looked shaky early in the first set, they were rarely challenged by the Mustangs the rest of the way. Central York led by double digits for long stretches in the second and third sets and outscored South Western by a combined score of 62-33, after giving up the early 17-13 run.
With a tough road ahead of them in the Class 4A bracket, Ocasio said he was glad the Panthers were challenged early in the tournament. The Panthers will play Hempfield in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
"It's nice to face some kind of adversity," Ocasio said. "We've been trying to find our identity this year, with a new group of girls, it's just been us finding who we are."
With the loss, South Western finishes the season at 8-9. While the Mustangs actually strung together some points. at the end of sets two and three, they were ultimately held back by inexperience, according to coach Cathy Harman.
"When game two rolled around, we were either trying too hard or standing around wondering, 'What can I do?,'" Harman said. "I don't feel like we had the maturity and the skill at the same time."