Upper Merion tops Upper Dublin for 8th straight conference title

FORT WASHINGTON — When the Cardinals took a set from the Vikings midway through the season, it was the first time in program history that Upper Dublin had done so against Upper Merion. And despite the fact that the Vikings have now taken six straight sets against the Cardinals, Upper Dublin has achieved another first for the program — a playoff berth.

Sitting around the 15th seed in District One, the Cardinals (10-4) have won every out of conference game this season — including a big-time win over Central Bucks West to start the season — and have only dropped matches to the Vikings and second placed Hatboro-Horsham.

Upper Merion had also lost a match to the Hatters this season, but with a 3-0 victory over Upper Dublin on Wednesday (25-12, 25-21, 25-20) they claimed their eighth straight Suburban One American conference championship in a row.

“This was our first playoff game,’ said Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten. “We were playing a playoff-level team, someone who’s going to be seeded in the top 16.’

With Pennridge (16-1, 11-0) looking to be the number one seed, Upper Merion should fall to the second seed — the first time in eight years they have not gone undefeated in claiming the conference title.

“In the Hatboro match, we had won 107 Suburban One American conference matches in a row,’ Funsten said.

Joe Boland, coach of Villa Maria, will lay out the scheduling for the upcoming district tournament. If the chips fall as they may, the Vikings and Cardinals may be seeing each other again very soon.

“The girls have been out there putting in a lot of work, a lot of hours in the gym, a lot of sweat and sacrifice going into this, so I got to give them all the credit in the world,’ said first year Upper Dublin coach Paul Choi. “We tried to do the best we could, tried to be the most prepared we could against this team.’

While the Vikings took the first set with ease, the Cardinals fought back to 20-20 in the next two.

“Toward the second and third set we change things around a little bit … we really honed in on the people we were targeting and did our best to serve tough and put them out of system,’ Choi said. “We kept it tight with the second and third set … but they were able to pull out a couple rallies.’

The Vikings, after losses to Villa Maria and Hatboro-Horsham, refocused and reassessed their team.

“We realized what we needed to work on and we’re making the changes at practice and during the games to take things more seriously, because after going undefeated for so long last season we thought it would be a breeze this year,’ said Upper Merion’s Eryn Brady. “We were taking things lightly and I think after those losses we won’t take it lightly anymore.’

As the 2013 District One champions, that team found success to be easy until finding themselves down two sets to none in the state playoffs. This season, they’re hoping their early losses will be of benefit to them.

“We just weren’t as focused as we should be, but it’s hard when you have these titles, because you get a little cocky,’ said middle hitter Carolyn Helenski. “We relied on our titles, rather than the actual skills that were involved in getting those wins.’

Funsten tried out a different offensive scheme against Upper Dublin Thursday — rather than running their typical 5-1 with Carlye Orodisio at the sole setter, they ran a 6-2 with both Orodisio and Kailyn McNamee both setting. The main difference in the two different schemes is that when the setter is front row in the 5-1, only two attackers are available; with the 6-2, three attackers are always at the net.

“I think we get more kills out of it, it’s an advantage for us,’ McNamee said.

“We absolutely have to have that in our back pocket,’ Funsten added.

With both teams looking forward to the playoffs, win or lose on Wednesday night, they still have something to look forward to.

“They’ve done so much this season,’ Choi said. “Going into the first round of districts, I tell them that they’ve accomplished a lot, but don’t be satisfied with what you’ve been doing, because you can do a lot more.’

“The season doesn’t have to end next week.’

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