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Pennsbury girls volleyball keeping its eye on a bigger prize

Pennsbury sophomores Brooke Burns (15) and Elly Torres (24) go up for a block in recent matchup with Council Rock North. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)

FALLS TWP. – The Pennsbury girls volleyball team finished a fantastic season Wednesday night (Oct. 18) at Central Bucks East. The Lady Falcons swept the Patriots in straight sets, 25-17, 25-23, 25-13.

Pennsbury (21-1) finished the regular season three games ahead of second place CB West and with the third seed in the District One-AAAA standings, behind only top seed Bishop Shanahan and Upper Merion.

The Falcons’ only loss this season was sustained earlier this month at Council Rock North when the Lady Indians emerged with a 3-1 victory in Newtown.

“The fact that North already had a few losses made us, I don’t want to say we were overconfident but I don’t think we took them as seriously as we should have,” said Pennsbury head coach Mike Falter.

“North is a good team – they’re very solid and they’re always going to put up their best against us.”

After splitting the first two games (25-23, 20-25), the Indians posted successive 25-17 and 25-19 triumphs in what was perhaps their biggest win of the regular season.

“The first time we played them, we thought we were just going to go out there and win,” added Falcons outside hitter Julia Vreeswyk. “It was an eye-opener.”

“In a way, we needed the loss. It was better to lose now than in the playoffs.”

While the D-1 4A Tournament begins Tuesday, Oct. 24, Pennsbury will surely have a bye as one of the top eight teams in the bracket. The postseason begins for the Falcons two days later.

Pennsbury’s most significant win of the season facing a Suburban One National League foe came Monday, Oct. 16 when the Falcons avenged the loss to CR North with a 3-1 triumph over the Indians. Pennsbury reversed its earlier fate at the Rock, splitting the first two sets then taking the last two, 25-12 and 25-16.

Vreeswyk led the way with 28 kills (.322 hitting percentage) to go along with six digs and three aces. Classmate Sydney Buell came through with 17 kills, 12 digs and a pair of aces while registering an amazing .516 hitting percentage.

Senior libero Heather Linker led the defense with 16 digs and setter Kiley Bucknum chipped in with 50 assists, nine digs and an ace.

Sophomore Brooke Burns added six kills and a .357 hitting percentage while senior Shelby Hastings came through with four kills and a .375 hitting percentage. Sophomore Elley Torres added an ace, four kills and 14 digs.

While Burns, Hastings and Vreeswyk are among the best blockers in the league, the Falcons are not without a weakness.

“We’re a big team. Offensively, we’re spread out and balanced. We have a lot of girls who can put the ball away,” said Falter. “But our core defense has been our weakness.

“If we can combine defense with the offense that we have, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”

The coach has spent weeks tweaking the lineup, trying to solidify the defense heading into districts. After starting the season as an outside hitter, Buell is now positioned at opposite. Torres has taken Buell’s spot as an outside hitter.

“Historically, Sydney was a center and a right-side hitter and Elley was always an outside,” said Falter. “But during the preseason, we thought we saw some things that would work, and they did.

“The more games that we played, we realized they’re both suited at the positions they naturally played.

“That’s where their strengths come out.”

Pennsbury has not made it to states since 2007 and has never earned a PIAA berth under Falter, now in his sixth season. That could change during this postseason.

“My first year, we made it to (district) quarterfinals and lost to Bishop Shanahan so we were one win away (from states),” explained Falter. “We haven’t gotten that close since.

“We’re hoping that if we keep playing the way we’re playing and things fall our way, we might have an opportunity to play in a state match.”

The Falcons have shown some strength outside the SOL National Conference, defeating non-league foes Garnet Valley, North Penn, Strath Haven and Mount Saint Joseph. Pennsbury toppled the defending state champion Jaguars 3-1 Sept. 16 on its home court.

“The two best matches we’ve had all season were Garnet Valley and North on Monday night,” said Falter. “Those were out two most complete wins.

“Ever since that North loss, they realized there was more focus needed to detail.

“They’re taking one set at a time and they’re more focused on the bigger goals.

“We won the league – that’s the first goal. Making states – that’s the next step.”

The Falcons’ toughest opponents in districts could be SOL Continental Conference rivals Abington and Plymouth-Whitemarsh. Both finished with identical 17-1 league records and are ranked sixth and seventh respectively in the D-1 4A Power Rankings.

Bishop Shanahan (18-0), Upper Merion (18-0), West Chester Rustin (18-2) and Perkiomen Valley (16-3) are also among the top five seeds in the district.

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