UPPER PROVIDENCE >> The Upper Merion girls volleyball team has played in a loud environment before.
In last year’s District 1 playoffs, the Vikings lost a five-set thriller in front of a jam-packed gym at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.
Monday night, Upper Merion had to deal with the perennial power that is Pope John Paul II and a gym filled with screaming Golden Panthers fans for the Panthers vs. Cancer Volleyball Game to battle breast cancer.
The Vikings were able to overcome all the obstacles and stay perfect with a 3-1 Pioneer Athletic Conference Frontier Division win, 25-23, 17-25, 25-19, 25-21.
“For the most part, pretty well,” Upper Merion’s Tori Wright said of her team’s ability to handle the noise. “I think the only reason we lost the (second) game was because of the loudness. We definitely caved in a little bit, but we came back and fixed it.”
“You learn a lot about yourself in situations like this,” UM coach Tony Funsten said. “Can you control your emotions? Can you still communicate when you can’t do it verbally because no one can hear you?”
Upper Merion led for most of the first game. A 20-16 lead turned to 21-20 and Funsten asked for a timeout.Emma Andraka had a kill and Katelyn O’Brien an ace to make it 23-20, another Andraka kill made it 24-21 and, after a couple kills from PJP’s Mary Kate Mooney, Upper Merion finished off the game when a Golden Panthers’ pass went too wide and couldn’t be returned.
The second game was all PJP. An 8-3 lead was cut to 11-9 before opening up to 24-14. Sarah Ward’s kill finished off a 25-17 win to even the match, 1-1.
Upper Merion led the third game most of the way, with the lead peaking at 22-14. PJP got within four, 23-19, but Jada Peoples closed it out for the Vikings, 25-19.
“It felt like we just had to play point by point and make them earn everything they get,” Funsten said about changes after the second game. “I felt we gave them a little too much in the second set.”
The fourth game started close, with Upper Merion holding a 16-14 lead. The Vikings ripped off four straight to make it 20-14 and kept their distance en route to a 25-21 winner on a Danielle Chung kill.
Upper Merion improves to 16-0 with the win. They’ve only lost 5 total sets this season — two to Perk Valley and one to Spring-Ford, Villa Maria and Pope John Paul II.
“We have better team chemistry this year,” Wright said. “It’s our second year with this lineup. We play so much more together. There’s no one playing for themselves — it’s always for our team.”
Funsten agreed that the team is playing together.
“We have kids sacrificing for the team,” Funsten said. “We have to make sure everyone is aware of everyone doing their job — that’s what makes volleyball so wonderful. Everybody has a job to do and it’s the ultimate team sport.
“Your play can’t be selfish. That’s what we emphasize in so many different ways. We have kids that are basically just blocking — that’s not that much fun, but they’re doing it because they know that’s what the team needs.”
The Vikings have a couple regular season matches left before the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four at Pope John Paul II High School next week.
Andraka is 12 kills away from 1,000 in her career. She will most likely get it on Senior Night Wednesday. She’s a four-year player who is also closing in on her 1,000th career dig.
“One-thousand kills is like getting 2,000 points in basketball,” Funsten said. “It’s like getting 2,000 digs. Before the season’s out she’ll get 1,000 digs.”
Upper Merion 3, Pope John Paul 1
Upper Merion 25 17 25 25
Pope John Paul 23 25 19 21
Kills: UM: Tori Wright 21, Emma Andraka 19.
Digs: UM: Tori Wright 25, Emma Andraka 19, Emily Gallagher 15.
Assists: UM: Kelly Moore 43.