Penncrest shows its strength at the net, beats Springfield

MIDDLETOWN — The Penncrest Lions’ mindset is simple but effective.

“We always want to start off strong,’ senior captain Bridgette Devlin said. “We get the first point and continue and make sure we finish strong.’

That’s exactly what they did Monday night against visiting Springfield. Penncrest (7-2, 5-2 Central League) never trailed as the Lions swept the Cougars 25-14, 25-18, 25-22. This is a young Lions team, but one that is coming together at the right time.

“I feel that we have a strong team,’ head coach Jen Carney said. “They played together last year and we have some strong players that compliment our starters.’

The Lions were led offensively by underclassmen. Junior captain Emily Hopkins finished with seven kills, while sophomore Diana Balta contributed 12.

“(Balta) is a killer on the net,’ Carney said. “She has mad jumps. She’s definitely the strongest hitter on the team.’

The Gargiule sisters also proved crucial to Penncrest’s success. Junior Gianna had 15 assists. Sophomore Nicolette dished out 11.

Penncrest’s relentless attack prevented Springfield from settling into the game. The Lions ran off a 7-0 start in the first game, 8-1 in the second, and led by as many as nine in the third. The Cougars simply couldn’t stop Hopkins and Balta at the net.

If there’s anything to nitpick about the home team’s effort, though, it was Penncrest’s tendency to relax as it neared the crucial 25th point. In game three, the Cougars rallied to within two when Carney called a timeout. Devlin wasn’t concerned.

“We knew when it becomes a little bit stressful, we need to be able to finish,’ she said. Devlin was effective on the serve and was everywhere defensively for the Lions. She finished with 18 digs.

“Coach told us, ‘ You know what to do,” Hopkins added. “She just wanted to give us a breather.’

“Our focus is staying strong throughout the game,’ Carney said, “Focusing on that next point.’

And why not? Every point counts for a Penncrest team with eyes on the District One playoffs.

“It was really important for us to sweep for district seeding purposes,’ Carney explained. “Shutouts and point differential matter.’

Springfield (1-6, 0-5), on the other hand, is in the middle of a rebuild. The Cougars carry just three seniors, a far-cry from its normal roster.

“It’s been different,’ said Emily Stevenson, one of the three seniors and a Springfield captain. “We usually have seven or eight seniors and they lead the way. This year, we’re experiencing new things.’

With that perspective, Stevenson called the lopsided loss a learning experience.

“They picked up on our weaknesses,’ she said. “They showed us what we need to work on.’

Stevenson felt that her Cougars played well despite what the result might indicate.

“I thought we did really well,’ said Stevenson, who had a team best 14 assists. “I think we finally got into a groove (in the third game).’

Chloe Williams led Springfield with nine kills, while Kerianne Gilligan contributed six. Colleen Culbertson, a sophomore, came up with 11 digs. Penncrest’s youth, though, has Carney giddy about her team’s future.

“I think we have a good mix,’ she said. “We still have this season, and then the next one to two years as well.’

In other Central League action:Garnet Valley 3, Haverford 0: Elise Cummings set the offensive tone to help the Jaguars (5-0, 3-0) remain undefeated. Cumming dished out 35 assists. Brianna Blush (16 kills) and Maria Nicolaides (seven kills) were the beneficiaries of many of those assists. Plush also had 13 digs, while Nicolaides added two blocks. All-Delco Jenna Hostetler helped the defense with 15 digs.Strath Haven 3, Marple Newtown 0: Brianna Fisher’s strong play at the net, Maddie Caspari’s floor game and the defense of Maura Gibbs helped the Panthers (7-1, 3-0) maintain their share of first place. Fisher had 18 kills and two blocks as Strath Haven won 25-16, 25-17, 25-21. Caspari handed out 20 assists and Gibbs recorded 17 digs for the defending Central League champions.Ridley 3, Radnor 0: Amy Staiber and Molly Murtha had huge days at the service line as the Green Raiders (2-5, 2-1) cruised 25-12, 25-10, 25-13. Staiber had six aces and seven kills. Murtha also had six aces, along with four kills and three blocks. Carlee Herrin chipped in with 15 assists.Lower Merion 3, Upper Darby 0: April Hinkle and Evie Shanefield played strong in a losing effort for the Royals (2-5, 1-2). Hinkle dished out 16 assists and Shanefield recorded 11 kills and four blocks. Lower Merion won 25-21, 25-14, 25-11.

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