CONCORD >> After two relatively lopsided sets Friday afternoon, Spring-Ford made clear in the third set, with its season on the line, that it wouldn’t go quietly against Garnet Valley.
The 11th-seeded Rams applied pressure, taking a lead for the first time since the opening points of their District 1 Class 4A fifth-place game. Garnet’s response, as it had been so often Friday, was to find the hot hands to take them to a second straight states berth.
A run of two kills each from outside hitter Emma Rokosky and middle blocker Samantha Mann turned the tide, allowing No. 8 seed Garnet Valley to sweep to a 3-0 win over the Rams, 25-15, 25-16 and 25-21.
The win permits the Jaguars (17-5) to continue their defense of the PIAA Class 4A title. Like last year, they enter the tournament as District 1’s fifth seed and follow the westerly path, starting with the District 3 champ next Tuesday, either Hempfield or Exeter.
When the going got tough Friday, the Jaguars went to their two most reliable scoring sources. With the third game tied at 17, Rachel Cain twice set Rokoksy on the outside left for the junior to swoop in and crush kills that stemmed the tide of momentum and put Garnet Valley up for good.
“A lot of times, it’s us who get the glory, but it all starts with the back row, too,” Rokosky said. “The back row gets a great pass, Rachel gets a great set and that’s how the kill is made. It’s not all us.”
Rokosky’s dependability stems from her adaptability. While Cain was typically brilliant with 35 assists and five digs, Rokosky has a penchant for making something out of nothing. One such occasion in the second set, Rokosky rescued a broken play with a kill off a backline pass that she hit from essentially a standing jump, spurring a string of three straight kills for her that put Garnet Valley up 18-13. Roksoky tallied a double-double of 13 kills and 11 digs.
“Emma is so reliable,” Mann said. “I can always count on her. She’s an amazing hitter and an amazing block.”
In the middle, the towering sophomore Mann helped leverage a rare and decisive height edge for the Jags over Spring-Ford (16-7). Mann provided six kills and five blocks, including three and two in the second set. Once Rokosky got the third set to 19-18, Mann stepped up and put down two consecutive kills, one an astute, quick-set tip over the net to surprise the block.
Mann and Ally Hartney (11 kills, two blocks) alternated in the middle to give the Jags a clear edge.
Senior Erin Paterson added eight kills and three digs, an attacking chemistry that started from the outset.
“It’s really great to be out there playing that way because in the beginning of the season, it wasn’t always like that,” Rokosky said. “We’ve come a long way since then, and it’s just great to see how much our team has grown and how it can start out right off the bat getting those points and playing the way we can.”
Spring-Ford often dug early holes from which it couldn’t recover. Patterson provided four first-set kills to provide the Jags’ separation. Cain started the second set with four straight service points, and Spring-Ford was never closer than two points the rest of the way. And Garnet led 8-3 in the third behind the serving of Jordan Gallagher before the Rams rallied, aided by uncharacteristic Garnet errors.
Despite 28 combined digs from Grace Kraft, Lauren Stenson and Carolyn Norwicke, the Rams couldn’t consistently put their big hitters in. On the rare occasions they did, Amber Goldberg (23 digs) and Gallagher (11) made sure the balls didn’t hit the floor.
Garnet Valley’s persistence lands them back in the PIAA playoffs. Though if you ask the current crop — only two of whom, Goldberg and Patterson, played on last year’s senior-laden state championship squad — this triumph is less a continuation of past glory than the first salvo for a junior-heavy bunch ready to create its own legacy.
“We are mostly new, and it’s big. We’re really excited,” Mann said. “I went to see (the final last year) and I was amazed. I really am looking forward to this. … I see it as a whole new beginning and a whole new start to future generations of going really far.”
“I think it’s definitely a new group getting to its peak for the first time,” Rokosky said. “We have Amber and Erin who were state champions last year, so it’s nice to have them knowing what it’s like going into states, but for everyone else, we’re brand new to this and I just can’t wait to see how far we go.”
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