Garnet Valley states its case with emphatic win

CONCORD — The Garnet Valley volleyball team had five days to ponder a third straight trip to the District One Class AAA quarterfinals.

That was plenty of time to rehash the ill-fated trips of the last two seasons, losses consigning the Jaguars’ seasons to early ends a win shy from the elusive PIAA Tournament.

For a senior-driven squad, one conversation abounded.

“Nothing but screaming and imagining the last moment of that game, the last point, the dog pile, the last feeling of getting that win,’ senior libero Jenna Hostetler said. “It was a conversation we could not stop talking about all week.’

So how did the reality compare — when Hostetler and her teammates watched Julianna Boettger’s tip over the net find the floor to seal a 3-0 win over Perkiomen Valley Tuesday night — to all those states dreams?

“Oh,’ Hostetler beamed, “it exceeds it every time.’

For the first time since 1996, and the first time ever at the Class AAA level, the No. 3 seed Jaguars earned a berth in the PIAA Tournament, as well as a spot in Thursday’s District One semifinals.

For a group of seniors that have contributed to those near-misses the last two falls, it’s hard to imagine the payoff for all the toil being much sweeter.

“We’ve been working so hard all season, and we’ve been working toward this,’ senior setter Elise Cummings said. “This was our goal, to make it to states. It’s been so long since our team made it here. I just think all the effort we put in all season finally paid off for us. I’m really proud of how we played tonight.’

The Jags didn’t just edge over the hump. They emphatically vaulted the obstacle that had limited the program’s progress over the last few seasons and stuck the landing, winning by game scores of 25-13, 25-22 and 25-20.

On just about every key presented by coach Mark Clark beforehand, they passed with flying colors. The Jaguars (17-2) dictated points with stellar service that the No. 11 seed Vikings had no answer for, especially in the first set. Garnet Valley was credited with just nine aces (led by three from Kelly Sarbaugh), but their varied service looks impeded Perk Valley’s ability to cleanly set up attacks for their outside hitters.

That led to low attacking percentages for some of the Vikings’ most dangerous hitters. Middle block Caitlin Corcoran, with her imposing 6-2 frame, was limited to four kills (against four errors) on 16 attacks. And while 6-3 Cayla Veverka did her usual dangerous bit with 12 kills, no other Viking put away more than four.

The Jaguars also successfully avoided the immense middle block assembled by Veverka, Corcoran and Ellie Min. Perk Valley’s ability to establish the block coincided with its brief rallies, as when three Veverka kills gave the Vikings a 19-16 lead in the second set, or when Veverka and Min propelled the Vikings to cut a 14-7 disadvantage in the third set to 16-14.

“It lifts you up when you keep getting touches on the ball and keep blocking it and shutting them down,’ Veverka said. “It definitely lifts the spirit of the team and gives you hope that we’re going to put the ball away, we’re going to keep blocking them, we’re in control.’

But ultimately, Garnet Valley executed its plan to circumvent the big girls in the middle with great success, discretion being the better part of valor for a small team that knew it couldn’t measure up height-for-height.

“Playing smarter is one of our key jobs,’ said Cummings, who dished 23 assists. “We have to move around the blocks. We have to work with it. I have to change up the sets. Our hitters have to change up the hits, and just cover, in case we get blocked. We’re always there to back each other up.’

Part of the neutralization of Perk Valley’s size came via another key point: Getting out to a fast start. Both teams dropped their first sets in their second-round victories, but Garnet Valley was determined not to repeat that folly Tuesday.

The early initiative upped the pressure on the young Vikings, and it showed with some nerves near the net, including a number of net violations trying to force matters. That and the dogged Garnet Valley defense — Hostetler collected 15 digs, Sarbaugh chipped in 13 —ratcheted up the need for precision.

The varied looks meant contributions were required from everyone. Brianna Plush led the hit parade with 11 kills, including five kills and a block in the first set, punctuated by putting away points 24 and 25.

Kiley Price chipped in five kills, and Sydney Portale and Maria Nicolaides added four each.

“We were successful because we played together,’ Plush said. “We have people covering us. We know how to hit around (the block). We know how to hit above. They’re going to get blocks, and we know that. We don’t get discouraged because we have people behind us who are going to cover us.’

That commitment means that, in Hostetler’s words, the Jags were able to “go out with a bang.’

“I think we kind of all knew it was our last shot,’ Cummings said. “We’re seniors. This is our last chance to make it to states. All we could do is give it all we had and put it all out there, and that’s what we did tonight.’

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