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Garnet Valley’s first trip to state final ‘surreal’

MECHANICSBURG >> Red Lion, the sixth-ranked team in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 4A top 10, could not get past unranked Garnet Valley. And the Lions were the champions out of always strong District 3.

Neither could Baldwin, the second-place team out of District 7. And the Highlanders took the first two sets in that match.

State College rolled into the PIAA Class 4A semifinals undefeated, scored the first six points and held on to take the first set.

Even that, though, was not enough to send Garnet Valley home for the season.

The Jaguars dug deep for the fifth straight match to become the first team from Delaware County to reach a PIAA final in volleyball with a grueling 3-2 victory over the Little Lions Tuesday evening at Cumberland Valley High School.

Garnet Valley (23-3) takes on two-time defending champion Parkland in Saturday’s championship at Richland High School. The District 11 champion Trojans (24-1) knocked off District 1 champ Bishop Shanahan, 3-1, to reach the state final for the fourth time in the last four years.

“I can’t believe this,” said libero Lizzie Herestofa, who led a defensive effort with 30 digs. “It’s mind boggling. Surreal is such an over-used word, but that’s what it is, surreal.”

Believe it. Garnet Valley won the five-set thriller 23-25, 25-22, 25-15, 21-25, 25-12 to become the first team from District 1 to reach the big school final since Bishop Shanahan won the 3A title in 2009.

Garnet Valley climbed out of a 6-0 hole in the first set to make that game close and then erase a 4-1 deficit in the fifth set to hand State College (22-1) its first loss of the season.

“It’s amazing,” Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark said. “It was a battle and we kept battling. These girls are just so resilient, it’s unbelievable.”

The Jags did it before. Garnet Valley rebounded from a loss to Council Rock North in the District 1 quarterfinals to make the state tournament and erased a 2-0 deficit against Baldwin to reach the state semifinals for the first time in program history.

“That’s where the experience comes in,” Clark said. “We’ve been in so many tough matches, in the playoffs and during the regular season. We just went through a five-set match (in the quarterfinals) so we knew what we had to do.”

That was to keep plugging away, which is exactly what the Jaguars did to oust the Little Lions.

“We play for each other,” said setter Gabby Davis, who finished with 48 assists and eight digs. “It’s just incredible. This is so amazing I can’t think straight.”

The difference was defense. In addition to Herestofa, Sydney Portale (16), Megan Scott (18) and Amber Goldberg (11) all had double digit digs. As for the attack, that was a group effort, too. Nicole Loan led the way with 14 kills and one block. Cassidy Gallagher had 13 kills and three digs. Erin Patterson collected 12 kills and three digs, while Portale had 11 kills and five aces to go with her 16 digs.

It was Portale who sealed it after State College ran off three straight points to get the Little Lions within 14-12 in the final set. After a dig, Davis fed a perfect pass to Portale and the senior did not miss it.

“I saw that pass and I said to myself, ‘If I put this down, we go to the state final,’” Portale said.

Portale buried the kill between a pair of defenders and the celebration was under way.

“This means so much, especially to do it with this group of girls,” Portale said. “I can’t put it into words. It’s just amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re going to the state final.”

Something no team from Delaware County has ever done. Radnor reached the 3A semifinals in 1982, but its run was stopped there. Haverford made it to the 3A semis in 1997, but also came up short in its big to reach the state final.
Garnet Valley did not squander its opportunity.

“This was amazing,” Portale said. “I’m so proud of everyone that I’m going to cry. It’s insane. It’s a dream come true.”

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