SPRINGFIELD >> The Gwynedd Mercy girls volleyball team had spent this entire season figuring out if it could take down Mount St. Joseph.
Three times, the answer was no. Tuesday night was the Monarchs’ final chance to solve their Athletic Association of Catholic Academies rival.
“This was our dragon that we had to slay,” GMA coach Michael Nguyen said. “That’s how I felt the entire time, this is our nemesis, this is our rival and these girls really take it personally. When they came to our house in the beginning of the season and beat us 3-0, girls were in tears, devastated, feeling like they let the team down.
“It was all mental. We felt it was all mental. The parents kept telling us it’s a mental (thing). They felt we were the better team but we wouldn’t let ourselves be the better team.”
Down by six and Mount just four points from taking a 2-0 lead in their District 1-AAA semifinal, Gwynedd Mercy finally found a way to become that team.
Trailing 21-15 in the second set, the Monarchs put together a 10-2 run for a 25-23 win, evening the match at a set apiece. The momentum swung to third-seeded Gwynedd Mercy and with a strong defensive performance, it stayed there. GMA took the next two sets to clinch a PIAA berth and advance to the district final with a 3-1 (18-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-17) victory over the No. 2 Magic.
“It’s amazing. We’re been working for this for like the past four years,” GMA senior Abigail Kress said. “So, just the fact that we got it is amazing.”
Kress finished with 14 kills and 11 digs while Lizzy Ferguson collected 13 kills, four blocks and three aces for the Monarchs, who move on to face top seeded Pope John Paul II – a 3-0 winner over No. 4 Merion Mercy – for the district title 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Harriton.
“We just believed in ourselves and came together,” Nguyen said. “Everyone was reminder everyone else out there to get a block up, get a swing, they were just talking out there and just playing as a group, as one system as opposed to as individuals. People stepped up their game. We were seeing some issues in the first set, first half of the second set and they just cleaned it up after that.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 2, 2016
Gabrielle DeLucca had 45 assists, Lauren Holland made 21 digs and Gabrielle Greene had nine kills and six blocks for GMA. Catherin Peel finished with nine kills while Olivia Guinther had six kills and six blocks. As a team, the Monarchs posted 42 digs and 18 blocks.
“We’ve been practicing defense so much in practice,” Kress said. So that definitely helped. Just we decided that we weren’t going to let any balls drop. So we just fulfilled that.”
Cassidy Abdalla had 11 kills, 5 blocks and four aces for Mount St. Joseph, which was trying to earn its first state berth since 2010.
“They had a great season and we wished we could of done more with the season,” Mount assistant coach Jerry Abdalla said. “But they’re a great group of girls and fun team to coach and we’re proud of them.”
Elizabeth Thomas had 14 kills while Corrine Filograna made 21 digs. Jacey Abdalla dished out 43 assists.
“They played really strong in the first, had the lead in the second, that’s when they (GMA) went on their roll and that’s when they got the momentum,” Jerry Abdalla said. “We had a tough time getting it back. We had some players who were hurt and had a tough time overcoming that.”
Mount St. Joseph swept Gwynedd Mercy twice this season – Sept. 8 at GMA and Oct. 17 at home in the Catholic Academies semifinals on Oct. 17. The Magic beat the Monarchs in four at home Sept. 29.
Tuesday night, Mount did not have a lead in the opening set until going up 15-14 with a Siobhan McBride ace on the next points putting the Mount up two. Gwynedd Mercy got within one three times, but after the Monarchs made it 19-18, the Mount ended the set with a 6-0 run – Thomas’ kill sealing a 25-18 win.
The teams were even at 11 in the second set before four straight from the Magic put them up 15-11. After GMA slice the margin to 17-15, the Mount posted another four in a row for a 21-15 advantage that forced the Monarchs to call time out.
“I actually quoted (Philadelphia Eagles coach) Doug Pederson cause he was saying against the Cowboys the other night if we make less mistakes we’re going to be a great team,” Nguyen said. “I think after that we just stopped making less mistakes and let the other team make the mistakes.
We were also in a situation last Thursday where we played Villa (Maria) and we’re down 14-7. And I kept reminding them as we’re inching closer and closer to tie that second set up, ‘this is just like Villa, you guys did it before, you guys can do it again’ They just remembered that and went off it.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) November 2, 2016
Mount St. Joseph still had a five-point edge at 22-17 after a kill by Courtney Kasperski – who registered her 1,000th career kill in the first set – only for the Monarchs to surge back with six straight points, a kill from Greene in the middle giving GMA a 23-22 edge.
The Magic tied the set at 23, but Gwynedd continued the run, collecting the next two points, the last coming as Mount could not handle a Guinther block, giving GMA the 25-23 win.
“Throughout the year we’ve definitely come back from harder ones, so it wasn’t that much of a challenge for us to come back,” Kress said. “Just work hard, play every ball.
Mount led in the early portions of the third set – its largest advantage at 7-4 – but Gwynedd Mercy came back to go ahead 12-11. After the Magic tied it on the next point, GMA took control with a 4-0 run.
The Monarchs were up five at 20-15 before the Mount cut its deficit to 21-18. Gwynedd, however, proceeded to win the next four points for a 25-18 win.
Mount St. Joseph claimed the first four points of the fourth set but GMA answered by taking seven of the next nine to grab the lead for good. With their defense preventing the Magic from stringing together runs, the Monarchs extended the margin to as large as nine at 24-15. Mount fought off two match points before a Greene kill from the middle cemented the four-set victory.
Top Photo: Gwynedd Mercy’s Abigail Kress sends a spike past Mount St. Joseph’s Cassidy Abdalla and Summer Adamson during their District 1-AAA semifinal on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)