UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Upper Merion continued its dominant season Monday night and punched its ticket to the Pioneer Athletic League championship game.
The Vikings tallied a 3-0 win, 25-21, 25-18, 26-24, over Spring-Ford in the PAC semifinals to set up a date with Pope John Paul II in the final Wednesday.
All three games followed a similar trend. The teams started evenly and stayed tight most of the way through, but each time Upper Merion made a strong move to pull away and secure the win.
“Spring-Ford’s a good team,” Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said. “They’re strong. They’re well-coached. At this point in the season, how much you’re better than somebody else gets smaller and smaller. Your freshman are sophomores by this point, playing wise. Everyone is growing up and you’re a much tighter team. Runs are two and three points instead of five and six points, so it’s hard to break away from somebody.
“These are your league playoffs. These are the four best teams. They’re going to be tough.”
In the first game, Upper Merion and Spring-Ford traded points to go from 8-8 to 16-16. The Vikings took three straight points to make it 19-16 before the Rams pulled within one, 21-20. Emma Andraka posted back-to-back kills and Tori Wright followed with her own to make it 24-20 Upper Merion. After a Spring-Ford point, Andraka finished off the game for a 25-21 Vikings victory.
The undefeated Vikings made their move a little earlier in the second game. After splitting the first 14 points, 7-7, Upper Merion took four straight to force a Spring-Ford timeout. The Vikings kept their distance and used a Jada Peoples’ kill and Andraka ace while taking advantage of Spring-Ford mistakes — a ball landing out of bounds and a serve and a return hitting the net — to close out a 25-18 win.
“(Upper Merion) held their composure a little better than we did,” Spring-Ford coach Josh McNulty said. “We came in with a gameplan. We knew they have very powerful outsides and we were trying to stay with them. I thought we did a good job of that. They’re good. Even triple blocking, Emma (Andraka) is such a fantastic player that even with that big block she’s just going to hit it over us or around us. We started to get frustrated a little bit and kind of lost focus of the gameplan.
“We were right there in every one of those games. A little bit towards the end if we made a better play or better decision it could have definitely changed the momentum.”
The two rivals traded points in the third game with neither side leading by more than two points from a 4-2 Spring-Ford lead all the way until the teams were tied at 16. The Vikings rattled off three straight points — Wright and Andraka kills and a long Spring-Ford shot — to take a three-point lead. That advantage ballooned to five, 23-18, and moments later they were one point away with a 24-20 lead. The Rams battled all the way back to tie the game at 24, but Wright sealed the deal with back-to-back kills to give Upper Merion the sweep, 26-24.
“To score five straight points against (Upper Merion) is no easy task,” McNulty said, “especially to do it when the match is on the line. It would have been very easy for them to just give up and they didn’t do that. I’m happy with the way we played.”
Wright finished with 23 kills and 22 digs for Upper Merion. Andraka added 20 kills and 10 digs, Kelly Moore had 40 assists and 10 digs.
Olivia Olsen led the Rams with 11 kills and seven digs. Alexis Palucki had seven kills and four digs, Carly Swenson 23 assists, 11 digs and three kills and Grace Kraft 17 digs.Upper Merion will play for the PAC title Wednesday at 7 p.m. in its second year in the league.
The Vikings will be looking to beat Pope John Paul II at Pope John Paul II for the second time in eight days after beating the Golden Panthers, 3-1, last Monday night.
“We know they’re going to be tough,” Funsten said. “They’re home, they’re tough. They should bring a crowd, we should bring a crowd, I hope. It should be an exciting match and whoever wins the championship earned it. It’s not going to be given to them, we know that and I’m sure Pope John Paul knows that.”
Spring-Ford will re-group and get ready for the District 1 Class-4A playoffs.
“The kids are all upset,” McNulty said. “Obviously no one wants to lose, but I had to remind them the season’s not over yet. We still have districts to go. That’s what the goal is.”
Upper Merion 3, Spring-Ford 0
Spring-Ford 21 18 24
Upper Merion 25 25 26
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