DOWNINGTOWN >> With the way the District 1 4A volleyball tournament was seeded, the Ches-Mont league powerhouses were bound to eventually cannibalize each other. That began in earnest on Tuesday when fourth-seeded Downingtown West came from behind to edge No. 5 Avon Grove, 3-2, in quarterfinal action.
Up next for the Whippets is the top seed and crosstown rival Bishop Shanahan. The Eagles cruised past Hatboro-Horsham to set up an all Ches-Mont semifinal on Thursday at Shanahan. The triumph also secured a spot in the upcoming state tournament, which is a first for the program at West (17-2 overall).
“It means a lot to this program,” said sophomore Aly Reardon.
“This is the furthest we’ve ever gotten in districts,” added Downingtown West head coach David Parrish. “This is a very big deal for us.”
The Red Devils fall to 21-3 overall, but their season will continue in a playback game Thursday against Hatboro-Horsham, and an opportunity to earn a state berth though the consolation bracket. Avon Grove needs to win Thursday and again in Saturday’s fifth-place game to earn a state brth.
“Our conference is very strong, so of course we would want to see some of these teams later in the postseason,” admitted Avon Grove head coach Ashley Focht. “We knew (West) from playing them in the regular season, so we worked on the things we needed to work on — it just wasn’t enough.”
Trailing most of the evening and with their backs against the wall, the host Whippets finished strong in a must-win fourth set, and then carried the momentum over to the deciding fifth set. The scores were 24-26, 25-21, 18-25, 25-19, 15-8.
“When the bracket came out, it looked like a Ches-Mont playoff for us, with (West Chester) Rustin, then Avon Grove and now Shanahan,” Parrish pointed out. “There is not much you can do about it. It would have been nice to see some teams not in our league, but that’s OK.”
Down 2-1, West scored the first five points of the fourth set, then allowed the Devils to come back and tie it four times, before pulling away late. Senior hutter Sophie Gelling delivered three quick kills to provide a cushion, and then Reardon helped close it out with back-to-back kills to make it 24-17.
“We just seem to be able to find that extra gear down the stretch, especially in the last half of the fourth and on into the fifth,” Parrish said. “Sometimes you come back and work so hard to win that fourth match and then you lose your energy. But we just found a way.”
In the deciding set, Gelling helped break open a 6-6 tie with four kills, and then Reardon ended it with her 18th kill of the match. She also led the Whippets with 13 digs.
“We had the momentum heading into the fifth set, so it helped us and definitely carried over,” Reardon said.
“For us it was mental,” Focht added. “At the end of the fourth, there were some things that didn’t go our way and it got into our heads. (West) had a run at the end and they carried that into the fifth set. That’s something we have to work on.”
In the opening set, Avon Grove overcame a 10-4 deficit, and later a set point at 24-23. In all, the Red Devils scored the final three points to pull it out, 26-24, and the last two points came on blocks by Chloee Kleespies and Ayanna Turner.
Downingtown West won the second set thanks to a 7-1 finish, but Julia Crabtree starred at the net for Avon Grove in set No. 3, setting the stage for the Whippets comeback.
“We started blocking better in the latter portion and that was a key,” Parrish said.
“This team has shown amazing resilience. If Avon Grove passes well, they are tough to stop. But as the match went further, they started to crack a little on the passing, and then they started spraying some balls around in the fourth. That gave us the confidence to get going.”
Gelling finished with 15 kills and five blocks, and Hailey Lewis chipped in with six kills, seven aces and three blocks for West. The Devils got 19 kills and 17 digs from Crabtree, and 16 kills and 16 digs from Kleespies.
Undefeated Shanahan handed West one of its two regular season losses back on Oct. 6th, sweeping the Whippets 25-16, 25-18, 25-13.
“I have a lot of friends that play for Shanahan, so I am ready to take them down,” Reardon said.
“I think they are still ranked No. 1 in the state,” Parrish added. “They are very, very good so we’ll just have to continue to play our brand of volleyball, try to execute and play great defense.”