LOWER MERION >> Mark Clark continually stresses to his team about winning “one point at a time.” While a simple focal point, the seventh-year Garnet Valley head coach emphasizes to his Jaguars volleyball team, it speaks volumes to the way he directs his program and that mantra was never more prevalent than against a familiar foe Tuesday night in the Central League final.
Garnet Valley broke out to early leads in the first and second sets before closing things out in the fourth on their way to a 3-1 victory over Strath Haven in the Central League title game at Harriton High School. It is Garnet Valley’s third league crown in five years. The Jaguars upended the defending champion Panthers 25-12, 25-20, 13-25 and 25-13.
Jumping out to a 7-0 and 5-0 lead in the first and second set, respectively, the Jaguars were up 2-0 on an opponent they had faced in five of the last six league title games. Garnet Valley never trailed in either set, but its biggest obstacle came in the third set.
After falling behind 15-4, the Panthers rolled to a 12-point set win and Clark knew his team had to go back to what had brought them so much success: taking each point with the same approach.
“They had us down and were crushing us. We didn’t care about the score at that time because we had to build some momentum back up,” Clark said.
Behind a quartet of seniors in Gabby Davis, Julianne Hurley, Sydney Portale and Lizzie Herestofa, the Jaguars (17-2) overcame a sloppy third set and never trailed in a commanding fourth set victory. Davis finished with a team-high 35 assists along with six digs. Hurley tallied six kills and four blocks. Portale recorded 11 kills and an ace while Herestofa had 24 digs and an ace of her own. Davis, a member of Garnet Valley’s 2014 title and 2015 runner-up team, described how her role evolved throughout the season.
“Comparing it to football, I’m like the quarterback. I have to make decisions on who gets the ball, where to put it and try to better the team,” Davis said. She called the victory “what I’ve been working for since my freshman year” and her teammate, Hurley, reiterated those sentiments.
“It means the world. Last year, I didn’t even think it was possible,” Hurley said. “I’m so happy and proud of my team, coaches and everyone who helped us out.”
For defending champ Strath Haven (11-7), senior leadership kept it in position to attempt a comeback. Brianna Fisher posted 13 digs and 12 kills, including four in the first set along with an ace. Fellow senior Casey Blum had a team-high 16 kills and Grace Sullivan had 13 digs. First-year head coach John Grossman said his team’s failure to match Garnet Valley’s quick starts in the first two sets was the underlining factor.
“We were just trying to focus on how we execute. I didn’t think we did a good job of that in (sets) one and two,” Grossman said. “It’s tough to keep (momentum) going against a team like that.”
Winning three titles in five years means little to Clark, who says, “it is what it is.” What he could not deny was where his program has risen and how this championship was a culmination of hard work, especially on the part of the Jaguars’ seniors.
“Some of these seniors were on the team two years ago and now they’re seniors here,” Clark said. “It’s a program. I hope these sophomores build on this and we just keep the program going.”
In the Catholic League:
Bonner & Prendergast 3, Archbishop Ryan 0 >> Molly Ryan was near a double-double with eight kills and nine digs, and Caroline Goggin augmented her 12 digs with six aces as the Pandas swept by game scores of 25-9, 25-15 and 25-15.
Maggie McPeak dished 21 assists, and Caroline Manfre and Danielle Davis combined for nine kills for the Pandas (10-6, 7-4 Catholic).
Cardinal O’Hara 3, Archbishop Wood 1 >> Meghan McWilliams paired five digs and two aces with 33 assists as the Lions powered through a rough patch in the third set to win 25-21, 25-18, 20-25 and 25-16.
Kiki Daly collected 12 digs and eight kills, and Breanna Hickey chipped in eight kills and 10 digs for the Lions (18-2, 11-1) in their regular-season finale.
In the Ches-Mont League:
Bishop Shanahan 3, Sun Valley 0 >> Liz Boccella came up with 25 digs, but the Vanguards fell, 25-11, 25-19 and 25-19.
Ryan Vickers paired six kills with seven digs, and Megan Lynn tucked away five kills to go with two blocks.