CONCORD >> Among the many challenges of the postseason, District 1’s playbacks system offers a unique wrinkle for Class 4A girls volleyball.
Garnet Valley felt it last Thursday: The tournament’s third seed, defeated by No. 10 Council Rock North, facing a playback semifinal at home against Upper Merion. The dreaded game to get to the game to get to states, featuring two teams stinging from a winning streak gone by the wayside, forced to quickly circle the wagons.
Garnet Valley’s antidote? Humor.
“We like to play a game when we all look down and look up, and if you make eye contact, you’re out,” senior libero Lizzie Herestofa said Monday afternoon. “And that makes us all laugh and makes us excited to play, so I think that kind of helps us get loose.”
It’s not exactly ‘win one for the Gipper.’ But to look at the results, the game Herestofa said she and teammates Gabby Davis and Sydney Portale adapted from their club, Sparks, seems to have merit.
That’s why the Jaguars (20-3) have a chance to perpetuate a monumentally successful season, entering the PIAA Tournament as the District 1 fifth seed and visiting District 3 champion Red Lion Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Central York High School.
The Jaguars took the difficult path, needing to overcome No. 10 Upper Merion and No. 5 Avon Grove to earn the district’s final states bid and book the program’s fourth states trip (the last in 2014). The convincing manner of those wins, both 3-0 sweeps, offers a little momentum.
The Avon Grove win, in particular, is an accomplishment in itself. In sweeping the Red Devils Saturday afternoon, the Jags avenged a five-set loss from Oct. 5 that was as close as could be, a 15-13 fifth-set margin. Atoning for that blemish is an emotional boost to carry them halfway across the state.
“We lost to them the first time, so we really wanted to come out and beat them for revenge,” Herestofa said. “I think the way we played kind of showed how driven we were to do that.”
In playbacks, the Jags have rediscovered the depth that delivered an undefeated Central League title. Nicole Loan and Erin Patterson both got into double-digits in kills against Lower Merion, while Portale added six kills and 12 digs. Patterson turned in 13 kills against Avon Grove, while Sekai Kaminski tucked away 10 kills and Portale was near a double-double again with eight kills and seven digs.
Red Lion poses a distinct threat, ranked No. 8 in 4A by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. The Lions didn’t exactly waltz to their spot in the tourney, surmounting a two-set deficit to battle out a five-setter against 10-time District 3 champs Hempfield.
But thanks to the Jags’ playbacks resilience, Garnet Valley has some positives to build on Tuesday.
“I think there’s momentum,” Loan said. “I think we do best as underdogs. We didn’t do as well last year, so this year we came up and we’re up for the challenge.”
“We’re all kind of pumped up now,” Herestofa said. “We have confidence. We kind of built that back up after our loss. I think we’re ready to take on whoever we play.”
Elsewhere in Class 4A, District 12 champ Archbishop Carroll (22-0) puts its unbeaten record on the line in the second game of a doubleheader at Bishop McDevitt.
The Patriots, who are ranked third in the state by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, take on Downingtown West (17-4), the No. 4 team out of District 1. This is Carroll’s first trip to the state tournament since 2011 and fourth overall.
Carroll is led by senior outside hitter Hannah Wright, who was named the Most Valuable Player in the Catholic League. The Patriots have swept 19 of their 22 matches and have dropped just five sets all season.
The Whippets have lost two in a row. Downingtown West dropped a 3-0 decision to Bishop Shanahan in the District 1 semifinals and fell to Council Rock North, 3-0, in the third-place game.
The winner of the Carroll-Downingtown West match takes on the winner of the match between District 1 champ Bishop Shanahan and District 11 runner-up Liberty in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The Eagles are ranked first in the state, while the Hurricanes are ranked fourth.
Cardinal O’Hara (21-3) earned its fifth straight trip to the PIAA tournament with a 3-0 triumph over Palumbo in the District 12 Class 3A championship game. The Lions take on York Suburban (16-6), the third place team out of District 3, at 4:30 p.m. in the first game of the doubleheader at Bishop McDevitt.
The Lions have won 18 of their last 19 matches. The only loss in that stretch was a 3-2 decision to Carroll in the Catholic League championship.
The Trojans, the No. 7 team in the coaches Class 3A poll, bounced back from a four-set loss to eventual champion Berks Catholic in the District 3 semifinals with a 3-2 triumph over West York. York Suburban had to win the last two sets to win that match.
The O’Hara-York Suburban winner gets the winner of the match between District 11 champ Allentown Central Catholic and District 1 runner-up Pope John Paul II in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Central Catholic is ranked first in Class 3A, PJPII is second.