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Villa Maria rallies, edges Sun Valley in volleyball semifinals

Sun Valley's Hannah Vickers. firing a shot in last week's opening round of the District 1 tournament against Interboro, had 22 assists Tuesday in a 3-1 loss to top-seeded Villa Maria. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)\

WILLISTOWN — It was evident early on that top-seeded Villa Maria Academy would have to earn its way to its first trip to a district final since 2015. That’s because Sun Valley was planning on playing in a district final, and making the PIAA tournament, for the first time in program history.

The fourth-seeded Vanguards made their presence felt with a four-point win in the first set. That forced the Hurricanes to dig deep and rally for a 3-1 victory in the semifinal round of the District 1 Class 3A volleyball tournament Tuesday night.

Villa Maria (18-3) had to score the last three points in the fourth set to complete a 21-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-20 win, and set up a showdown with second-seeded Pope John Paul II in Thursday’s final at Harriton High School (5 p.m.). The Golden Panthers, the last team to beat the Hurricanes, topped third-seeded Mount St. Joseph, 3-0. The triumph also secured Villa Maria’s first trip to the PIAA Tournament since winning the District 1 Class 2A title in 2015.

“We knew Sun Valley was ranked high during the season so we knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park,” first-year Villa coach Peggy Evans said. “We knew that they had some big guns and had two great setters, and they played a great match. So that first set was a little bit of a wake-up call.”

It didn’t help that the Hurricanes lost junior outside hitter Olivia Karkenny to a leg injury early in that first set, but sophomore Alessia Giandrea filled in nicely with eight kills in the match.

“She was a little shaky there in the beginning, but she came on strong,” Evans said. “We’ve been using the two of them intermittently and Alessia stepped up big time for us.”

Giandrea wasn’t the only player to have a big game for the Hurricanes. Senior setter Kelsey Hoff showed why she has more than 1,000 assists in her career. She doled out 32 helpers and set the offense in motion. Many were due to senior outside hitter Kara Schiek, who pounded 13 kills. Senior outside hitter Lizzie Acchione added seven kills.

Hoff helped the Hurricanes regain the momentum early in the second set. She was on the service line for three consecutive points to start the game and Villa Maria pulled away from there to even the match.

“I think that first set was a good way to pull ourselves together,” Hoff said. “We don’t really have that kind of competition around here.”

The Vanguards (17-6), though, did not go quietly. Juniors Olivia Nickerson (11 kills, 12 digs), Hannah Vickers (22 assists) and Rachel DiCarlo (16 digs), and sophomore Kristine Guenther (nine kills, 13 assists, 17 digs) saw to that.

Sun Valley make Villa sweat, especially in a back-and-forth battle in the fourth set. The Hurricanes took the lead for good, 14-13, on an ace by senior Kelly Thomas.

“We lost a little momentum in that second set, but I was really proud of the way they fought back,” Sun Valley coach Melissa “Liddy” Haines said. “Every single person on this team tonight contributed. It wasn’t just one person.”

And with losing only one senior starter in Gia DiEmido, the future looks bright for the Vanguards.

“It would have been nice to get past this round because it’s never been done,” Haines said, “but I think that next year is our year. There’s no doubt in my mind.”



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