Costly mistakes dash Penncrest’s district title dream

UPPER DUBLIN >> The post-match meeting following Penncrest’s 3-0 loss to Great Valley in the District One Class AAA girls volleyball semifinals took place behind the Upper Dublin High School gym and lasted less than 10 minutes.

It didn’t have to be that long.

The Lions knew they made too many mistakes, mental and physical, to keep their dream of winning the district title alive. And the second-seeded Patriots took advantage of those miscues to earn a rematch with top-seeded Bishop Shanahan in Saturday’s district final.

Shanahan knocked off fourth-seeded Perkiomen Valley, 3-1, in the nightcap at Upper Dublin to earn its second straight trip to the district championship game.

As for the Lions (19-4), they face Perkiomen Valley for third place at 3 p.m. in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Harriton.

“This definitely wasn’t our best showing,” senior libero Gianna Gargiule said. “We could have played better. They’re a good team. They run their offense really quick, but this definitely was not our best night.”

Penncrest coach Jen Carney wholeheartedly agreed.

“If we minimized our mistakes, I think we would have come out on top,” Carney said.

Instead, Great Valley (20-1) came out on top, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18.

“We kept trying to push them and they kept pushing back,” Great Valley coach Sam Ellis said of the Lions. “Penncrest is a good team.”

Great Valley, though, was a little better, thanks, in large part, to a defense that kept the ball alive long enough for the attack to do some damage.

“We know how important it is to defend at this time of year and I think our defense frustrated their hitters,” Ellis said.

That wasn’t quite it, junior Diana Balta said.

“We just didn’t come out strong,” Balta said. “For some reason, we didn’t have the right energy.”

Balta led Penncrest’s attack with 13 kills. She also had 11 digs and six assists. Gianna Gargiule added 11 digs. Her younger sister, Nikki, had 18 assists and six kills, while Emily Hopkins chipped in six kills and nine digs.

That was enough to keep Penncrest close in the first two sets, but the Lions just could not take control in either set. Penncrest rallied from a 7-2 deficit to take a 20-18 lead, and had a 23-22 advantage, but a service error and two balls into the net doomed the Lions. The Patriots used a series of runs to take control of the final set.

“We’d go on a run and then let them go on a run,” Balta said.

As disappointing as the loss was, it did not bring an end to Penncrest’s season, and the Lions have already proven to be resilient. Penncrest bounced back from a 3-2 loss to Ridley in the Central League semifinal with wins over Central Bucks South, Abington and Mount St. Joseph to earn its first trip to the PIAA Tournament in 20 years.

“Look at what we did after we lost to Ridley,” Carney said. “We came out strong and played really well for the next two weeks. We have that same opportunity.”

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