CONCORD >> It’s been a strange year for Upper Merion’s volleyball team, which after nearly two decades of being one of District One’s top programs has slipped into the good, not great, caliber of play.
Which is why the Vikings found themselves in the unaccustomed position of fighting for their district lives at Garnet Valley Thursday night.
The Jaguars, fresh off a three-set loss to Council Rock North , were in no better a frame of mind. But ultimately their experience showed over the young Vikings.
Nicole Loan and Erin Patterson combined for 25 kills and Gabby Davis dealt 35 assists as the Jaguars prevailed, 25-23, 25-23, 25-17 in the Class AAAA fifth-place semifinal to earn a date against Avon Grove, which defeated Hatboro-Horsham in straight sets Thursday.
“The opportunity was there,” said Upper Merion head coach Tony Funsten, whose team found itself tied at 23 in each of the first two sets. “But we didn’t quite have the juice that we had the other night (in a raucous five-set loss to Plymouth Whitemarsh).
“Maybe their experience showed. They’re a senior-dominated team.”
The Vikings showed up in each of the first two sets, and behind the play of the likes of Emma Andraka and Kelly Moore kept the Jaguars interested for each of the first two sets.
“We have a really young team,” Moore said, “and we went up against an experienced team.
“When things got close we kind of gave in, which was disappointing, but we played as a team and that’s all you can do.”
In each of the first two sets, the opportunity was there for the Vikings. But in both cases the Jaguars got the vital points.
In the first set it was Loan drilling a couple of winners down the stretch, while Davis and Patterson got the key points in the second set.
“Tony’s a good coach and he always has good teams,” said Jaguars head coach Mark Clark. “Our expectations were that we’d win the match, but I’ve seen a couple of their district scores, and you could see they were getting better.
“And the first two sets could have gone either way.”
But after pulling out the first two sets, the Jaguars put the pedal to the metal in third set, built a six-point lead, and never looked back.
“We started out on fire in the third set, and you could see (Upper Merion) kind of sag.”
With the victory and the date set against Avon Grove, the Jaguars look primed for a playoff run.
“You never know,” Clark said, “but we beat a good team tonight and that’s a good sign.”
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