Owego Free Academy and Tioga Central are separated by about 10-minute drive.
The unbeaten volleyball teams from those schools will be even closer this weekend. Both earned passage into the state final four in their respective classes at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Owego’s 18-0 squad will begin pool play in Class B at 3 p.m. Saturday, searching for its second state title in three years.
Tioga will bring a 20-0 record into Class D pool play, which starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Should Owego and Tioga emerge from four-team pool play with one of the top two records, they’ll play for a state championship Sunday. The Class B final is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the Class D title match will start at 10 a.m.
Admission is $8.
The Indians were oh, so close to seeing their season end this past Saturday, falling behind two games to none against Section 1’s Hendrick Hudson in a state quarterfinal at John Jay-Cross River. Owego responded by winning the final three games, 25-18, 25-21, 25-23.
“At practice I asked them, ‘How did you do it?'” Owego coach Brittney Race said of her team’s comeback. “I think they learned a lot about themselves. They pulled off something a lot of teams can’t do.”
Junior setter Bella Coleman played a huge role, dishing out 45 assists.
“I told her, you have to be that leader,” Race said. “She does what she does and she was getting to everything. She was even a key hitter at times.”
Senior Kim Lavender contributed 28 kills and 25 digs in the quarterfinal victory.
Lavender and fellow seniors Kayla Snyder and Madison Delaney-Hammond are the lone holdovers from Owego’s 2013 state-championship team. Senior Michayla Jenkins also played in 2013, but she’s out with a knee injury.
Race said she’ll lean on those seniors this weekend.
“It’s a big step and a lot of pressure,” Race said. “I’ll rely heavily on those seniors on and off the court.”
In every other team sport, the state uses two semifinals followed by a championship, but volleyball is unique in that the final four teams play each other in pool play. Owego will face in order Saturday: Section 3’s Westhill, Section 11’s John Glenn and Section 2’s Hudson Falls. Owego will play two games against each team.
John Glenn has the most impressive resume of the four, having won five state titles since 2004, the last in 2012, when it won the second of back-to-back crowns.
“We’ve played John Glenn a lot in tournaments over the years, so we know what to expect, but the other two teams we don’t know. I’ve been searching for information.”
Race added her team is good enough to adjust quickly.
“No one will beat us if we play well,” she said. “We can’t control what other teams have, we can only control what we have.”
Like Owego, Tioga needed five games to advance to the final four, and like the Indians, the Tigers also advanced to the state final four in 2013.
Senior Malley Bowen had 29 assists and nine kills, and junior Olivia Howland finished with 11 kills and 14 digs in Tioga’s quarterfinal victory over Section 3’s Lafayette last Saturday at Chittenango High.
The Tigers, who placed third in the 2013 state tournament, have four holdovers from their last trip – Howland, Bowen, and seniors Brittany Vergason and Marissa Taylor.
“It’s an overwhelming experience, whether you’ve been there or not,” Tioga coach Desiree Ford said. “I get an adrenaline rush and I’ve been a coach for 33 years. I can’t comprehend the adrenaline rush for the players.”
Pool play appears to be stacked. Section 6’s Portville is the defending champion and also won a state title in 2008. Section 1’s Haldane won the 2013, 2011 and 2007 state titles. Section 2’s Mayfield rounds out the finalists.
Tioga is in search of its first state championship.
“I focus on what we need to do,” Ford said. “You have to be ready to tweak what you’re doing and make adjustments. We’ve been good at that all season. When I say something, they’re ready to do it.”