Garnet Valley will have to get over setback

ABINGTON — The match was purely about seeding. The victory, much more than that.

“It helps a lot to win that match,’ Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said. “Plus, we’re the defending district champions. We’re not giving it up (easily).’

The Vikings were true to their word, downing Garnet Valley in four games, 25-16, 21-25, 25-20, 25-17, Thursday in the District One Class AAA semifinals. They advance to the final Saturday to face Bishop Shanahan back in Abington, Garnet Valley to the playback game the same day to meet Pennridge.

All four teams that reached the semifinals have already punched their tickets to the PIAA Tournament. So, nobody’s season was on the line here. That helped the Jaguars digest the loss — sort of.

“I think it does,’ Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark said. “I have to talk them into that tomorrow.’

The Jaguars (16-4), despite using the wrong lineup in the first game, controlled the early portion of the match and held an 8-5 lead. But Upper Merion eventually tied it at 10, en route to a taking a commanding 17-10 lead. It cruised from there.

The start wasn’t what Funsten wanted.

“We were scoring half their points,’ he said. “I don’t even know.’

Service errors cost Garnet Valley dearly in the opening game, though it rebounded to take the second game. However, that momentum didn’t hold in the following — and most important — game.

There, breaking away from an 18-18 deadlock, Upper Merion won seven of the final nine points to go up 2-1 in the match. In a battle between two teams without a whole lot between them, that was the difference.

“I think it was kind of back and forth the whole time,’ said Garnet Valley senior Elise Cummings, who had 33 assists.

The fourth game was the lone uncompetitive one, as the Vikings stormed out to leads of 14-7 and 20-13 before putting the Jaguars away. Senior Eryn Brady had the last of her 11 kills to end the match.

The run at the end of the third game propelled Upper Merion, Funsten said.

“Absolutely, volleyball is that way,’ the coach said. “(You) can control momentum by doing things right.’

For the Jaguars, there just wasn’t a chance to send it to a decisive fifth game. They couldn’t string together more than two consecutive points once they got down big. The end result, eventually, became inevitable.

“They took that lead, they never gave it up,’ Clark said. “That’s why they’re the reigning District One champs.’

Now, all Garnet Valley can do is move on to Saturday. It knows the season isn’t lost. It knows it has plenty to build on — Maria Nicolaides had 12 kills and four blocks; Brianna Plush had seven kills and 26 digs.

Plus, there’s one more match before things get real.

“It’s just one game,’ said senior Jenna Hostetler, who had 29 digs. “Gotta move on from it.’

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