NEWTOWN – Yogi Berra once said the game, “Ain’t over til it’s over.” The Council Rock North volleyball team must have been listening in their District One Class 3A quarterfinal matchup against Souderton. Down two sets to none, the Indians staged a heroic comeback to seize the victory.
Going into the contest, Nick Baniewicz, junior and starting setter for Council Rock, was not sure of Souderton’s potential. “We played them in a scrimmage early in the season but both teams have changed. We’re a totally different team and so are they. We saw them play North Penn in the first round so we had a preview. We didn’t expect them to be quite the team they were and they gave us quite a challenge.”
The challenge started in the opening two sets. Led by their captain Mike Pagen, Souderton dominated the action as they captured 25-20 and 25-18 wins. Pagen would finish the night with a game high 26 kills.
Facing elimination from the district tournament, Nick knew the Indians had to recapture the fire that led them to a 14-2 mark during the regular season. “We had hit rock bottom and we didn’t want our season to end. I specifically remember Harry (Wyatt) saying, ‘I don’t want my season to end now.’ The guys rallied together.”
The comeback would require a total team effort. “We knew it was game three. We had to just focus on our play, put it all on the line, and put our hearts out on every play as if it was our last. Most importantly, when we didn’t get a point, we didn’t get down on ourselves. We just rallied back.”
Nick fueled the resurgence, directing the Rock’s attack from his position as setter. “To play setter, you have to have a high volleyball IQ. You have to see who the other team has up to block and be able to exploit their weaknesses. You tell your hitters what to run and they run it and put the ball away. You’re like the quarterback. You have to take the blame but also feel the pride.”
Nick certainly had every right to feel proud. He led his team with 38 assists, five kills, six digs, 3.5 blocks and two aces. He was aptly supported by Harry Wyatt (16 kills, 12 digs, 1.5 blocks, one ace), Jack Gunshenan (13 kills, six digs, 3.5 blocks, two aces) and Sean Helmlinger (nine kills, four digs, one block, one ace).
Alex Borman led North’s defense with 16 digs. Also contributing to the comeback were Will Hewitt (2.5 blocks, one kill), Justin Walton (two kills) Grant Shieh (three digs), Kevin D’Arcy (1.5 blocks) and Ed Mancinelli (one dig).
From Nick’s viewpoint, every team member played a key part. “This year’s team is a lot of fun. We work as a whole team. But we’re also hungry and humble. We’re trying to ride the playoffs as long as we can and go as far as we can go.”
Continuing down the districts yellow brick road would require a gargantuan effort. Inspired by their home crowd, the Indians won the third and fourth set by scores of 25-16 and 25-21.
“I loved playing at home. We could play for our crowd and feed off the noise. It made the big plays even bigger.”
The biggest moment came in the fifth and final set, a relatively unchartered area for North. “That was our first game five all year so it was a new experience for us. We stayed composed and didn’t lose our cool. We knew we could put it all out and advance to the next round.”
The final set proved a classic. The Indians held an early 12-9 lead before Souderton rallied to tie the score at 14 all. The Rock remained poised, scoring two more points to ice the 16-14 win.
With the victory, North advances to the semifinal match-up with defending Disstrict 1 champ Pennridge.
“We played them last in the (2016) district (finals). They stole one from us. We haven’t seen them this year. We know they’re good and it will be a fun match.”
The Indians should put up quite a battle. They know all about battling right up to the final point.
TOP PHOTO: Nick Baniewicz (14) and Kevin D’Arcy (16) play tough at the net in Indians’ comeback win over Souderton in District 1-AAA Quarterfinals May 18 at the Rock. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)
Council Rock North 3, Souderton 2
(May 18 at CR North)
SOUDERTON 25 25 16 21 14 – 2
CR NORTH 20 18 25 25 16 – 3