Fisher guides Strath Haven to statement win

MIDDLETOWN >> As her team’s third-game advantage vanished Thursday night in crunch time, Strath Haven junior Brianna Fisher did all she could to keep Penncrest from taking its first game win and a much-needed dose of momentum.

Before the visiting Panthers wrapped up a 3-1 victory by scores of 25-19, 25-17, 24-26 and 25-20 at Penncrest’s Kaufman Gymnasium, the Lions rallied to knot the third frame at 21 apiece in an effort to avoid being swept in a long-awaited battle of undefeated Central League volleyball powers.

Fisher promptly responded by swatting the ball against Penncrest’s side of the hardwood on consecutive plays.

After the Lions tied it again to make it a 23-all game, she did it again. But when she rotated out to the serving spot with her team ahead by a single point, her ensuing delivery met the net and tied the game right back up again.

Strath Haven's Maura Gibbs goes up for the block against Penncrest's Diana Balta Thursday night during the Panthers' 3-1 win. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Strath Haven’s Maura Gibbs goes up for the block against Penncrest’s Diana Balta Thursday night during the Panthers’ 3-1 win. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

Penncrest eventually rallied to win the game, prompting a message from Panthers head coach Kevin Haney and company during the two-minute break prior to the fourth game.

“They just said to stay calm,” said Fisher, who paced the Panthers with 12 kills and nine digs. “Just shake it off and stay tough.

“We were nervous. We knew going into the fourth game that we had to come out swinging. We had to come out playing like we were in the first and second and we just had to get the job done because they did come back.”

After the Panthers (11-1, 8-0) bounced back with a 25-20 victory in the final set to send players, coaches and a rowdy bunch of student supporters to their side of Media happy, for the message was clear, as it had been for much of a one-sided evening: the road to this fall’s Central League title runs through Strath Haven.

“It definitely lifts us up,” said Panthers senior Maddie Caspari, who dished out 37 assists from the setter’s position. “Every team we (win), it really just lifts us up and lifts our spirits and makes us more excited for the future. I think we really are getting better every game.”

Both Fisher and Caspari were members of the Panthers’ title-winning group two seasons ago, just as they were when Garnet Valley snatched the crown from them last fall.

Now, Strath Haven stands as the lone school undefeated in league play after dispatching the Lions (12-2, 7-1) in a season that Fisher said she knew would be a “big year” before it even started.

“We’ve been really focusing on long-term goals and I think we’re really getting there,” Fisher said. “We’ve come a long way already since the beginning of the season and we’re really excited for what comes next.”

Rachel Vresilovic followed Fisher’s effort with 10 kills of her own, while Casey Blum added 10 kills and 12 digs for the victors.

Strath Haven's Bree Fisher (14) spikes the ball over Penncrest's Jordan Schuller (13) Thursday night. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Strath Haven’s Bree Fisher (14) spikes the ball over Penncrest’s Jordan Schuller (13) Thursday night. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

On the other side, Diana Balta was a force offensively for Penncrest despite the defeat, leading the Lions with 12 kills. Emily Hopkins also chipped in nine kills, while Vi-lynh Gale amassed seven blocks and Gianna Gargiule scrapped for 10 digs.

“We had some good plays and some bad plays,” Balta said. “It was kind of an off game, but there’s always next time. (We can) see them in the finals.”

As for Caspari, she and her teammates are targeting a trip back to that league final. But as far as a possible PIAA District One Class AAA title bid, well, they’ll see.

“I don’t know,” she said with a laugh, speaking of how far her team could go. “As far as we can.”

In nonleague action:

Sacred Heart 3, Bonner-Prendergast 0 >> Jessica McTaggart set the offense in motion for the Lions with 29 assists. Ally Schell (17 digs, 10 kills) and Kerri Corcoran (10 kills, four blocks) were strong at the net, while Lauren Kilroy (22 digs, four aces) helped spearhead the defense.

Sun Valley 3, Chichester 0 >> Emily Stokarski did it all for the Vanguards (7-4) with 15 assists and eight kills. Liz Schnarrs contributed six kills and three aces. Liz Boccella added 14 digs and Caitylyn Young handed out 16 assists.

Pennsbury 3, Garnet Valley 2 >> Meagan Scott and Lizzie Herestofa combined for 40 digs, but it wasn’t enough as Pennsbury rallied from a two-game deficit to beat the Jaguars.

Rachel Cain had 38 assists. Cassidy Gallagher and Sydney Portale combined for 20 kills.

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