UPPER DUBLIN >> The Pennridge boys volleyball team hasn’t quite seen it yet this season.
Now roughly halfway through their season, the Rams feel they haven’t quite put it all together yet. Sure, they’re 7-2 after a gritty comeback against Upper Dublin on Monday, but as a program that’s had eyes on deep postseason runs the past few years, it’s not on the same level.
Still, the effort they showed on the road as they rallied out of a two-set deficit to top the Cardinals 3-2 (20-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-12) was a step in the right direction.
“We definitely needed that,” Pennridge senior hitter Cross Edwards said. “Volleyball is an up-and-down sport and sometimes when we do something wrong, we crawl up into our shell and get upset with ourselves but this game was a real test of how much we could rally to get a win.”
For the host Cardinals, it was another case of coming close but not quite having enough to finish things off. UD, which fell to 2-5, played two great sets to start the match, frustrating Pennridge with its blocking and keeping its offense balanced.
Blake Bayles anchored the block while Matt Ross and Mario Petushi knocked down some swings on the outsides as the Cardinals seized control late in the first set then held off a Rams rally to go up 2-0. They couldn’t stop Pennridge’s rally in the third set, which helped flip the direction of the match.
“It’s a little disappointing in the sense that we’ve been in this situation up two and having some bad luck in these five set matches,” Cardinals coach Paul Choi said. “We’re young in the sense that we’re inexperienced at the varsity level. We have solid players as a whole, but it’s hard to get everyone on the same page. Plus, in a fifth set, it can be hard to keep your composure.”
Upper Dublin led 15-14 in the third set before a kill by Pennridge’s Zach Detweiler tied it and set the Rams up for a powerful finish. With sophomore Chris McKinney taking over behind the service line, Pennridge scored four straight and ended the set on an 11-4 run.
With UD’s block concentrated on the edges, Detweiler saw he was getting a single block almost every time and let setter Corey Quaste know. Quaste found Detweiler, who had five kills in the third set which led to things opening up for Edwards and Kevin Jones.
“We need more energy on the court, to me that’s all it is,” Detweiler said. “We’re such a talented group, it’s a lack of communication and energy that sets us back. It almost seems like we’re a deer in the headlights, we forget what we’re doing and we don’t swing back like we need to.”
The Rams are also still getting used to life without Ben Chinnici, the four year all-state standout now playing a key role as a freshman at Ball State. Pennridge got a taste of that last year when Chinnici missed some of the season with an injury, but he came back for the postseason and resumed his usual workload.
Now, it’s more of an every man up approach for Pennridge. Edwards, who has committed to St. Francis (Pa.), said having a summer and offseason of workouts without Chinnici was huge for the guys coming back, especially players who were taking on larger roles.
On Monday, Edwards made the point that Upper Dublin’s block had him out of sorts and he turned to his teammates to pick him up, which they did in that third set.
“Sometimes we get upset with each other on the court instead of focusing on our game,” Edwards said. “Today was one of those days, the first two sets we played horrible and were blaming each other for things. In the third set, we decided we were going to rally and actually work together as a team. The stat sheet was really spread out.”
“We just need to keep getting our stuff right,” Detweiler said. “We’re picking up on our hitting and that’s come with our passing. Once we get into it, we’ll get it rolling.”
As much as the Rams needed a match where they had to fight their way out of some tough spots, it won’t count for much if they don’t improve on it. Pennridge coach Dave Childs looked at the positives his team showed Monday, including Detweiler’s play, the strong finish and the ability to clean up areas of mistakes.
“We need to grow from this,” Childs said. “I saw some guys come up in tight spots and come up clutch. I thought some of the young players stepping up and pressure situations and coming up big was huge. They’ve seen enough that it’s about time for us to start clicking.”
Pennridge closed the fourth set strong as well, using a 5-0 spree to go up 20-14, then used a 22-15 edge to trade points until the clincher. In the final frame, Upper Dublin rallied to tie the set 12-12 before Edwards slammed down a pair of kills and the Rams were able to add the 15th and match-winning point.
“It’s something we’re still working on, with the limited practices we have, we try to be as productive as we can because we have some things we’re trying to figure out,” Choi said. “A lot of that comes with having experience playing volleyball and being exposed to a lot of scenarios we haven’t been yet, so we’re learning as we’re going.”
It was one match, but the Rams hope it could be the one that helps them put those last few pieces in place and start playing the way they feel they’re capable of.
“For our team, there’s no one guy that’s going to take the ball and control the game,” Edwards said. “It’s going to be all of us. We’re still trying to figure it out but that was a good game for us to learn what we have to do as a team and get better from it.”
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