Hatboro-Horsham tops Upper Merion in match to remember

UPPER MERION — The Hatters of Hatboro-Horsham walked into Upper Merion’s gym on Tuesday having, in coach Kathy Trainer’s words, “never won a match’ in all her years of coaching.

Tuesday night, that changed.

Taking the first set, the Hatters set in motion a back-and-forth match that went to the brink and beyond in three different sets. Even the decisive game five, a game typically to 15 points, went 23-21 and ultimately the Hatters’ way in a 3-2 victory (30-28, 22-25, 25-15, 26-28, 23-21) over the previously undefeated Vikings.

“We lost the match in the very first game against a team that played inspired the whole match with complementary kids coming off the bench,’ said Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten.

Led by Sam Jones, the Hatters used the hungry outside hitter in innumerable ways — effective both at the net, hitting back row, serving and receiving. The Vikings too often sent free balls over the net only to sit back on their heels as the Hatters ran their offense, more than often punctuated by a Jones kill.

“We set a team goal to beat Upper Merion this season,’ Jones said. “This is a team that pushes us and tonight we said we were going to push right back.’

The first set was a back-and-forth affair from the start with the Vikings taking the first point on a block and the Hatters responding with a hard down by Jones. Behind 16-14, the Vikings fought back in a long rally complete with multiple digs, frees, back row hits and ultimately a kill for the winner. Putting down a big block the Vikings found themselves at game point before the Hatters surged back to win 30-28.

“They served up a storm, they were fabulous,’ Funsten said.

Offensively, the Vikings were lack-luster in their attack. A few attacks early went wide down the line that later caused hesitation with the swing. Eryn Brady and Emily Shannon led all Vikings with 11 and 13 kills respectably, with Brady’s coming on 22 attempts.

Libero Ashley Shannon stood out defensively with 22 digs.

“They’re really a placement team rather than power,’ Jones said. “They always tip game point and we really worked on not letting any tips drop on us.’

Down the stretch, the Vikings couldn’t overcome the Hatboro set-point despite multiple opportunities. In the second game, the Vikings came out on top after breaking a tie at 22-all. In the third, the Hatters got off to the early lead and beat the Vikings handily.

The fourth was seemingly going Hatboro’s way before the Vikings surged from a 10-3 deficit to take a 19-15 lead. Yet, the Hatters made it interesting still, forcing extra points before the Vikings won 28-26 and forced a fifth set.

“Teams cannot walk over us,’ said setter Candyce Riley. “Even if we’re down we have to use that as motivation and get one point at a time.’

Yet, in the fifth and final set, the Vikings’ simply found themselves on the wrong side of game point — too often serving tied with the Hatters’ siding out to take the lead.

“We came into this game with great momentum,’ Trainer said. “We were preaching the words ‘ winning breeds confidence’ and they just believed in themselves.’

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