No doubt about it. This was a dream season for the Pennsbury girls volleyball team.
The Lady Falcons finished first in the Suburban One League (SOL), notched two district playoff games, and made it to states for the first time in 10 years.
Heather Linker, co-captain and libero for Pennsbury, was understandably elated with her team’s season long effort. “Our main goal was to be first in the SOL which we accomplished and we were proud of ourselves for doing that. Then, we wanted to win our first playoff game. We got a bye and then won the second and third games so that was a plus. We said ‘why not try to make the states.’ We were proud we made it that far. Our team hasn’t reached states in 10 years.”
The statistics only hint at the domination the Falcons showed along the way. In their first nine games of the regular season they lost only two sets. Their biggest win came in game eight against last year’s district champs Garnett Valley. In this signature win, Pennsbury outscored their opponent 3 sets to 1.
Heather feels this was the match-up that showed the Falcons they were special. “Our game against Garnett Valley was the game that made us think we could go far this season. We realized we have a talented team and we could possibly make it to states. They were district champs last year. We had won in our place, our gym, and that was unbelievable for us.”
The Falcons streak continued as they chalked up a near perfect 17-1 mark in the SOL National Division. Their only loss came in a close duel with archrival Council Rock North, a loss they later avenged in what Heather deemed a perfect senior night.
“If I had to pick one highlight of my career, my favorite game was the one against Council Rock North (Oct. 16) on our senior night. I’ll take that memory to the grave. I’ll remember that forever. They are considered our biggest rival. As any high schooler knows, you want to beat your rival. Plus that, that game guaranteed us first place in the SOL so that added even more.”
The “big” night bore special meaning for Heather and her fellow seniors, Kiley Bucknum, Shelby Hastings, Sydney Buell, and Julia Vreeswyk. “This year, we were a really close team, which helped so much. You’re playing next to the people you see in school every day. We are friends and eat lunch together. We are very close and that helped when we took the friendship onto the court. We were able to play for each other.”
Each player knew her role and played it well. For Heather, that meant manning the all- important libero position. “I’m the libero. I play the back row. I’m like the quarterback of the back row. I’m responsible for digging the ball when it’s served and playing defense. When the hitter hits the ball, I’m responsible for picking those hits up and getting it to the middle of the court so our center can come in and set our offense.”
The job requires a good court sense. “You definitely have to have good eyes. You have to look at the other team’s hitter. You have to look at their hips, arms and hands to give you the best prediction of where the ball is going after contact. You have to pick up on the signals the hitter is giving off. You also need to stay low in almost a squat position for a very long time.”
Going into the state playoffs Heather and her teammates knew they all needed to be at their best. “Going into the states for the first time I knew we would definitely have tough competition and they definitely brought their all. I was expecting a tough match.”
Unfortunately, the Falcons took on a red hot Archbishop Carroll team that had captured the District 12 title. The Patriots proved a worthy foe as they defeated Pennsbury in straight sets, 25-12, 25-16 and 25-15.
Elley Torres and Julia Vreeswyk led the Falcons at the net with 12 kills apiece. Sydney Buell added six digs, one block and two kills. Setter Kiley Bucknum had 27 assists, five digs and one ace. Heather held down the defense with 11 digs and one ace. Brooke Burns and Shelby Hastings added three and two kills respectively.
For Heather, who is attending nursing school next year, it was the end of a great volleyball career. “After the game, it was surreal. I tried not to cry because I will not be playing in college. This was our last game. I was trying to take it all in, that moment all of us together playing the game we love. Volleyball has been our life the last four years.”
Though the dream season has finally ended, Heather and her senior teammates have certainly built a lifetime of memories.