PSU-Mont Alto brings home national title

Members of the Penn State Mont Alto women's volleyball team celebrate their USCAA Division II national championship at Virginia Beach. PROVIDED PHOTO

MONT ALTO – In 2008, Penn State Mont Alto athletic director Marty Ogle orchestrated a move from the Commonwealth Campus Athletic Conference to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

It was the biggest move of Ogle’s tenure at the post he held for 28 years, and it coincided with PSU Mont Alto becoming a four-year college.

“That was the biggest step in my career here,” said Ogle, who died in 2019 after a battle with cancer but left a legacy of excellence at the school he served as head men’s basketball coach and won a CCAC title in 2002. “It allowed our student-athletes to play for four years, to play for national championships and earn national awards.

“We joined the USCAA which upgraded our athletic program immensely. We did a complete reorganization of the PSUAC. We have four-year eligibility now. Our students can play for four years. That’s why we switched. We’re trying to make our athletics programs more competitive. It’s going to help with recruiting.”

Fast forward to 2022.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, the PSU Mont Alto women’s volleyball team won the school’s first-ever national championship, defeating fellow PSUAC member Penn State York in four sets at Virginia Beach, Virginia. York won the first set 26-24.

The Lady Lions, under the leadership of head coach Randy Hood and assistant coach Russell Fleming, roared back to win the next three sets, starting with a 25-22 victory. Mont Alto then won the next game 25-14 and clinched the title with a 25-21 win.

Waynesboro Area Senior High School graduate Gracie Vaughn, a sophomore middle hitter, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Teammates Kylie Denlinger and Brooke Denlinger, both graduates of Carlisle High School, were named to the All-Tournament team.

Vaughn led the effort at the net with 22 kills. Goodling added 14 kills along with 14 defensive digs. Kylie Denlinger helped with 44 set assists and 15 digs, while Brooke Denlinger added 33 digs.

Former Maidens volleyball player Leslie Huckle, a junior who plays outside hitter, played in all four sets and generated seven kills.

Penn State Mont Alto’s women’s volleyball team features a collection of players mostly from Pennsylvania and nine from the Mid-Penn Conference. Along with Vaughn, Huckle and the Denlinger sisters, Aspyn Keech (Shippensburg), Gabby Baughman (Greencastle-Antrim), Abigail Wagner (West Perry), Candice Baum (Mechanicsburg) and Goodling (State College) joined forces with their former opponents to seize the USCAA championship.

Freshman Candace Newman is from nearby Hagerstown, Maryland and attended North Hagerstown High School. Clara Geesaman, a junior from Shippensburg, went to St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown.

Mont Alto, which advanced to the USCAA Division II championship game last season but lost in four sets, finished the 2021-22 season with a 26-6 record that included a 12-0 conference record and a 17-match winning streak.

The Lady Lions struggled to a 1-5 record through six matches, including five consecutive losses after starting the season with a win over Wilson College.

Once the conference slate got underway, so did Mont Alto. The sixth and final loss of the season came against Hartford Community College on Oct. 1, following a 3-0 win over Penn State Beaver at the Multi-Purpose Activities Center on the Mont Alto campus.

The Lady Lions closed out the regular season on Senior Day with a 3-0 win over Beaver and then swept through the competition in the PSUAC tournament. Mont Alto defeated Beaver 3-1 in the quarterfinals and shut down Brandywine and York in the semifinals and finals, respectively.

Mont Alto entered the national tournament with lots of expectations and lots of pressure, having nearly won it all a year ago.

It turns out that the Lady Lions were more than up to the task, as they swept Johnson & Wales and Paul Smith’s College in pool play.

Huckle recorded a team-high 12 kills and Vaughn added 11 kills in a 3-0 win over Cincinnati Clermont. Mont Alto won by scores of 25-18, 25-21 and 25-14.

The Lady Lions felt the thrill of victory as they rallied to top Penn State York in the finals.

Hood completed his sixth season at Mont Alto.

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