WESTTOWN >> Garnet Valley needed a spark.
After dropping a pair of close decisions in the first two sets of its District 1 Class 4A fifth-place semifinal showdown with the Jaguars, fourth-seeded West Chester Rustin appeared to find its mojo. The Golden Knights responded with a resounding victory in the third set that not only kept the match alive but also send a message that they were not about the go quietly.
The eighth-seeded Jaguars would have to earn this victory.
Up stepped junior middle hitter Alana Hagerty to give the defending PIAA Class 4A volleyball champions just the lift they needed to keep their season and state tournament hopes alive with a 3-1 triumph Wednesday night.
With Garnet Valley (16-5) leading by a point, Hagerty was on the service line for seven straight points, including three of her four aces, to give the Jaguars a little breathing room.
A little while later, fellow junior Emma Rokosky served with a chance to close out the match after pounding home a pass from Rachel Cain to give GV an eight-point cushion. She did not squander the opportunity. Neither of her serves where returned to finish off a 29-27, 25-22, 14-25, 25-14 victory that kept the Jaguars alive for a berth in the PIAA Tournament.
Garnet Valley goes for that final spot from District 1 when they host 11th-seeded Spring-Ford in the fifth-place game at 4 Saturday afternoon. The Rams knocked off No. 10 C.B. West, 3-1, to keep its season alive.
Serving was the difference in the fourth set.
“Our serve game was good,” Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark said. “We really served tough in that fourth game with all of them. Alana had a great run. (Julia) Bowes did a good job, and so did Emma. We had some great runs there.”
That trio combined for 12 aces. Bowes, also a junior, racked up six aces. Hagerty had four and Rokosky two.
Rokosky also led the attack with 14 kills and was strong on the defensive side with 11 digs. Hagerty chipped in with five kills and one block, while Bowes finished with five digs and one assist.
Setter Rachel Cain set the offense in motion with 30 assists, and libero Amber Goldberg played her usual strong game on the back line with 27 assists.
However, it all started at the service line.
“Serving is something we focus on a lot,” Rokosky said. “Our (assistant) coach Greg Wood has taught us so much about it. We know that serving is the most important part because it sets the tone for everything.”
The service game helped the Jaguars recover from that 11-point whipping in a third set in which the Golden Knights (19-4) did everything right. Rustin scored the first seven points and had a 13-1 lead. Kaia Johnson was huge in that opening salvo with five of her 16 kills.
Most of those hits came off feeds from senior center Callie McGinnis, who dished out 37 assists and had five kills. Emma Nelson (21 kills), Alessia Mattera (nine kills, eight digs) and Emily Supplee (eight digs) also came up big for the Golden Knights.
“We really clicked in the third set,” McGinnis said. “Then Garnet Valley came out and played really well in the fourth set.”
Having a short memory helped the Jaguars weather that storm.
“We just moved on to the next set,” Bowes said.
“We wanted to come back and show them what Garnet Valley volleyball is all about,” Hagerty added.
The Jags did just that, and Hagerty was the one who sent the message. Garnet Valley had 8-7 lead when she stepped to the service line for the first time in the set. There was little margin for error, and she delivered. The Jags had a 15-8 lead when a hitting error brought the run to an end.
“We play a lot of game-like conditions in practice so we know what it’s like to be in that situation in the game,” Hagerty said.
That cool demeanor helped Garnet Valley rally from a 19-14 deficit in the first set, climb out of a 16-13 hole in the second and bounce back from the setback in the third set to keep its state tournament hopes alive.
“They played well,” Rustin coach Harry Bitzberger said. “We were ready. They made good decisions the whole night. We made good decisions, too, but there were just a couple of things we could have done better, but they played well.”
In the other fifth-place semifinal:
Spring-Ford 3, CB West 1 >> Senior Carly Swenson had 32 assists, 12 digs and four kills as the Rams won 25-19, 25-17, 19-25, 25-15, to set up a meeting with Garnet Valley.
Senior Alexis Palucki (11 kills, 7 blocks), and juniors Olivia Olsen (15 kills, 15 digs) and Grace Kraft (26 digs) also came up big for Spring-Ford.
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