CONCORD >> There was no sign of panic, no indication of distress, after Garnet Valley dropped the second set Monday night in its match with Strath Haven. Until that two-point loss, the Jaguars had been perfect in Central League play, 28 set wins, 0 losses. So Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark wanted to see how his team would respond to its first set loss in league play.
Clark was quite happy with the result.
The Jaguars bounced back to post a 3-1 victory over the Panthers, with scores of 25-23, 23-25, 25-17 and 25-23. That enabled the Jags to clinch the league’s regular season title and move within one victory of earning a spot in next week’s Central League championship game.
If Garnet Valley beats Radnor Thursday, the Jaguars (14-2 overall, 10-0 Central League) are in the final. If Radnor wins, four teams make the league playoffs, which means the Jags will have to play next Monday night instead of having a bye.
And the Jags want the bye.
“It would be a relief to have the bye,” senior Sydney Portale said.
Strath Haven (9-6, 8-2) did not have a chance at the bye, but the Panthers could have moved into a tie for first place with a victory. So they were motivated, too. Early on, the third set looked like it would be a see-saw battle like the first two sets.
There were three ties and one lead change in the first eight points. The momentum did not swing Garnet Valley’s way until Cassidy Gallagher pounded home a pass from Gabby Davis to put the Jaguars up for the first time, 5-4.
Garnet Valley never relinquished that lead.
Portale pounded an ace and a hitting error by the Panthers pushed the lead to three points. Strath Haven never got closer than two points the rest of the set.
“I think our energy just went through the roof,” Portale said. “Losing that second set really motivated us. We knew that if we came out with low energy, a team like Strath Haven would take advantage of it. So we knew we had to come out and play the way we know we’re capable of playing.”
“The loss of the set had us thinking, ‘This is not us. This is not how we play. We need to get everything together,’” Davis said. Once we huddled together and talked about it we knew we would come out strong.”
It was a group effort. Portale finished with 11 kills, eight digs and four aces. Davis had 32 assists. Junior Erin Patterson pounded 13 kills. Lizzie Herestofa paced the defense with 27 kills. Gallagher contributed nine kills and five digs. Sekai Kaminski had three kills, two in the third set. Julianne Hurley recorded two kills. Nicole Loan had four kills and Amber Goldberg added seven digs and three aces.
“We really focused on our serves,” Clark said. “We started to get our serves in and that put pressure on them, and forced them to make errors. We didn’t have many kills in that third set, but we put pressure on them and they started to make mistakes. And our defense was stellar again.”
Behind the strong play at the net by Brianna Fisher (10 kills, 15 digs), Rachel Kent (eight kills) and Casey Blum (seven kills), the setting of Emma Golato, and solid defense from Grace Sullivan (17 digs) and Gabrielle McGinn (10 digs) Haven nearly took the first two sets. Strath Haven needed a crosscourt smash from Patterson following a long volley to take the first set.
Had a couple of points gone the other way in that first set, the Jaguars would have been staring at a 2-0 deficit.
“I thought we played really well,” said first-year Strath Haven coach John Grossman, whose team is tied for second with Conestoga and Penncrest. “There are some things that we needed to take advantage of that we didn’t. They played a lot more crisply than we did and it showed. They’re a good team. If we don’t take advantage of our side, we’re not going to win. That was the difference. They were a little crisper than we were.”
That was especially true in the third set and it turned the match in Garnet Valley’s favor.
“We’re played games where we lost sets, but this was the first one in the league so that kind of hurt a little bit,” Portale said. “We wanted to redeem ourselves in that third set.”
Elsewhere in the Central League:
Penncrest 3, Marple Newtown 0 >> Diana Balta had 15 kills and Nikki Gargiule handed out 36 assists to help the Lions keep pace with Strath Haven and Conestoga in the race for a berth in the Central League tournament.
Jordan Schuller added nine kills. Carly Venit had six kills and Thy Lan Gale collected 14 digs in a 27-25, 25-20, 25-11 victory.
Co-captian Jenna Cooper had seven digs and one ace for Marple Newtown. Hannah Roberts added 17 assists, three kills and two blocks, while co-captain Liz Conca added nine kills and five digs.
Haverford 3, Ridley 1 >> The Fords pulled out a tough 26-24, 23-25, 25-22, 25-17 victory. No further details were reported for Haverford.
Maria Brown (five blocks, four kills), Melanie June (15 digs, three aces) and Jackie Kelly (six kills, 13 digs) showed the way for the Green Raiders.
Conestoga 3, Upper Darby 0 >> The win kept the Pioneers in a three-way tie for second place with Strath Haven and Penncrest.
In the Del Val League:
Chichester 3, Penn Wood 0 >> Julia Miles collected 11 digs, seven assists, four kills and two aces as the Eages topped the Patriots, 25-19, 25-11, 26-16.
Caitly Jones added four aces and three assists, while Samantha Falcone chipped in with four kills and seven digs.