Fisher, Vresilovic rescue Strath Haven

NETHER PROVIDENCE — They had been here before. This exact spot one year ago, to be precise.

Last year, Strath Haven found itself playing Sun Valley, a team it had handled with ease in the regular season, in the second round of the District One Class AAA playoffs. Undaunted, the then-No. 13 Vanguards rolled into the then-No. 4 seed Panthers’ home gym and rode All-Delcos Chelsea Jones and Madison McCunney to a five-set upset that left Strath Haven stunned after what it had expected would be a long postseason run.

Thursday night, the Panthers squared off with Central Bucks East, a team the Panthers had handled with ease in the regular season. With a young team that features sophomores at more than half of its starting spots, a repeat of last year would have been possible.

It almost happened, too, until Bree Fisher and Rachel Vresilovic made sure the encore was cut short. The duo took over the deciding fifth game, dominating down the stretch to secure the No. 4 Panthers’ 3-2 win over the No. 13 Patriots by scores of 17-25, 25-13, 19-25, 25-21 and 16-14. Strath Haven will face No. 5 Bishop Shanahan, a 3-2 winner over No. 12 Hatboro-Horsham in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

It was symmetry with 2013 all the way … until the most important part.

“I think it meant a lot, especially having our home court and our student section with all of the support. It was a big advantage,’ said Fisher, who collected a double-double with 21 kills and a dozen digs. “It was about coming back better than ever. That was really the main focus.’

A year ago, Fisher and Vresilovic weren’t the main attractions when watching Haven play, but their incredible potential was always on display. This year, they’re the go-to girls for the Panthers (20-5), something that was painfully obvious to the valiant Patriots.

Fisher dominated the early part of the fifth game, putting away a pair of kills and firing up an ace to get Strath Haven an early 8-4 lead. When C.B. East roared back to take a 9-8 lead, it was Vresilovic who asserted herself at the net, collecting three straight points to take the lead back. Fisher took over down the stretch, zipping an impressive back row kill that turned the tide before she put it away with a monster smash to end things.

Give Panthers coach Kevin Haney credit. He knows a good thing when he sees one, and for years, his playbook when things get tough is simple: ride your best player until it doesn’t work.

“Those are two kids that we’ve gone to all year,’ said Haney, whose Panthers cemented their sixth straight 20-win season. “When things get a little dicey, we don’t have to draw up anything fancy. Just get the ball to Vresilovic and Bree and everyone knows it. We like to run a big power offense. We just think we can be bigger and stronger than everybody and use our size to our advantage.’

A sound strategy, even on a night where Strath Haven was missing starting middle blocker Rachel Kent. C.B. East got off to a great start, cruising in the opening game and showing an ability to bounce back after getting throttled in the second game. Even though Strath Haven is young, though, it’s an experienced group, and it didn’t hurt having Vresilovic take over the deciding game.

“I was a little nervous, but I knew we’d be able to pull it out,’ said Vresilovic, who had six kills, six digs and five blocks. “We’ve played a lot of five-set matches this year, which definitely helped us. (Being a focal point of the team) has been a little bit of a struggle for me because it’s not my personality, but I’ve been kind of getting more comfortable with it this season.’

Right in time for the Panthers to avoid a dÃjà vu.

In other District One action:

Garnet Valley 3, Central Bucks South 1: Elise Cummings handed out 34 assists and kept the Titans’ defense off-balance with four aces, while All-Delco Jenna Hostetler was her usual stalwart self with 20 digs to lead the No. 3 Jaguars (17-3) to an 18-25, 25-12, 25-18 and 25-16 win over No. 14 C.B. South.

Brianna Plush and Kiley Price controlled play at the net for the Jaguars with 16 and 11 kills, respectively. Price also swatted away four Titans offerings for Garnet Valley, which will face No. 11 Perkiomen Valley, a 3-1 upset winner over No. 6 West Chester Henderson.

In a Catholic League quarterfinal:

Lansdale Catholic 3, Cardinal O’Hara 0: The Lions’ quest for a PCL title came to an abrupt end against the defending champions despite nine kills from Charlee Borcky. O’Hara (17-7), which fell 25-21, 25-17 and 25-15, got 21 assists and two aces from Meghan MacWilliams and seven kills and three blocks from Gabby Napoleon.

The Lions aren’t done yet, though. They can qualify for a berth in the PIAA tournament by navigating through the District 12 tournament, which gets under way next Friday.

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