CONCORD >> During the regular season, Garnet Valley volleyball coach Mark Clark likes to use two courts in practice to make sure the varsity and JV teams both get enough work.
Once the playoffs roll around, though, Clark condenses things and goes with one court so the varsity can concentrate on the task at hand.
But after the third-seeded Jaguars dropped a three-set decision to Council Rock North Tuesday in the semifinal round of the District 1 Class 4A tournament, Clark switched things up for Wednesday’s workout.
He set up two courts, with the hitters and setter Gabby Davis on one court and the passers on the other court.
“We were just doing hitting lines and working on all the basics on the court I was on,” Davis said. “I don’t know what was happening on the other court, but it looked like they were being productive. We just went back to basics, back to being ourselves and not over thinking things.”
The strategy worked.
The Jaguars were not as tense as they were in the semifinals and the result was a 3-0 victory over No. 10 Upper Merion in the fifth-place playback round Thursday night.
“That was much better play tonight,” Clark said. “We still have a lot of things we can clean up, but the girls stuck together, didn’t get rattled and played great. They played as a team and that’s what it’s all about.”
“We really came together as a team today,” senior Nicole Loan added.
It showed on the court. After taking a pair of 25-23 nail-biters in the first two sets, Garnet Valley (19-3) took control early in the third set and cruised to a 25-18 victory to advance to Saturday’s fifth-place game. The Jaguars get fifth-seeded Avon Grove, which knocked off No. 8 Hatboro-Horsham, 3-0, in the other playback semifinal.
The winner advances to the PIAA Tournament. The loser goes home. The Jaguars dropped a 3-2 decision to the Red Devils Oct. 5.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” senior Juliane Hurling said. “We’re just excited to be playing.”
Clark wasn’t kidding when he said the Jaguars played more as a team. The numbers back up that statement. While Loan (15 kills) and Erin Patterson (10 kills, two digs) led the attack, six players had at least two kills. Sydney Portale had six kills, 12 digs and three aces. Hurling had five kills. Sekai Kaminski added three kills and three digs, while Cassidy Gallager contributed two kills and two digs.
As usual, Davis set the attack in motion with 35 assists, and teamed with Lizzie Herestofa, Meagan Scott and Amber Goldberg in a strong defensive effort. Davis also had eight digs. Herestofa led that department with 18 digs. Scott had four digs and three aces, while Goldberg pitched in with three digs.
Garnet Valley needed every one of those numbers to beat the Vikings for the second time this season. The first two sets were back-and-forth battles that featured 19 ties and seven lead changes. Patterson pounded a perfect pass from Davis to break a 23-all deadlock in the first set. A hitting error by the Vikings closed it out.
The second set was more of the same. Garnet Valley had an 8-4 lead only to have the Vikings battle back to tie the set at 11. There would be seven more deadlocks before a pair of hitting errors by the Vikings enabled the Jaguars to take a 2-0 lead.
It did not take Garnet Valley long to seize control in the third set. With Portale on the service line, the Jaguars ran off five straight points to break a 3-3 tie. Portale had two of her three aces in that stretch. After the Vikings trimmed the deficit to 11-8 on a huge kill by Emma Andraka, Garnet Valley ran off eight of the next 12 points to open up a 19-12 advantage.
A short while later, Gallgher put home a perfect pass from Davis to seal the victory and give the Jaguars life for at least two more days.
“We were really tense in that last game, but in this game we came out and knew it could have been our last and put it all on the court,” Hurley said. “That’s what we did.”