UPPER DUBLIN >> It was a key juncture not only in the second game between Upper Dublin and North Penn’s boys volleyball teams, but the entire match.
The Knights had rallied back to tie the game, had the momentum on their side and were that close to taking a two game lead in the best-of-five match. Then, the Knights got called for a violation and an ace by Upper Dublin’s Matthew Ross handed the Cards a needed win.
Upper Dublin rallied off that win, taking the next two games to claim a critical 3-1 (22-25, 26-24, 25-19, 25-21) win over North Penn at home Monday afternoon.
“The match itself was a little sloppy on both accounts,” UD coach Paul Choi said. “I just told them to keep working hard, trust the process. We’ve been working this hard, this long, it was going to come. Luckily we were able to find some timely blocks, good serving runs and were able to find a lot of momentum going to the second and pressing into the third and fourth.”
For two teams chasing a playoff bid, every remaining match is of the utmost importance. Monday’s effort wasn’t the cleanest by either side but Upper Dublin’s energy and will to win helped swing the match.
North Penn (7-7, 6-7 Suburban One League Continental) had won the prior meeting in five games, so Upper Dublin (8-7, 8-6 SOL Continental) expected another close one. The teams traded leads throughout the first game, with UD going up 17-14 before the Knights came back to tie it 19-19.
After taking a lead at 22-20, the Knights saw UD claw back to knot it up, 22-22, showing neither side was going to pull away. A kill by senior Steven Landes, followed by two Cardinal hitting errors, handed the Knights the first game, but they wouldn’t be able to build off it.
“They lost their steam,” Knights coach Ryan Genova said. “It was a sloppy match, not a fun one to watch. A lot of mistakes on both sides of the net, it being a Monday match might’ve had something to do with that, but you can’t use that as too much of an excuse.”
North Penn took a big 21-14 lead in the second game, but the Knights came roaring back on an 8-1 run to tie the contest 22-22. UD got the next two on a kill by Calvin Chan and a block by senior Evan Madden, but gave them right back to North Penn with a pair of errors.
The Knights’ miscue, followed by Ross’ big ace saved Upper Dublin, tying up the match and taking wind of North Penn’s sails.
“I think we had to get together and realize we were going to leave it on the court,” Madden said. “We’re all passionate about it and we want to enjoy every single minute of it.”
Madden stepped up his game offensively in the third and fourth games, asking for the ball in the closeout game in some big spots. Defensively, the Cardinals got a spark from their vocal leaders in setter Juan Palomeque and backrow Troy Gomer, who went to the floor often to keep rallies alive.
Upper Dublin commanded the entirety of the third game, going up 6-4 and never trailing again with Madden hitting two serving aces, notching a kill and a block in the frame.
The senior hitter also came up clutch when it was time to close things out, notching kills on two of the final three Cardinal points. It was a team-wide effort for Upper Dublin, but the senior felt it was on his shoulders to step into the moment.
“I think I do (need to step up there), get more touches,” Madden said. “I’ve been working on my ball control with passing, but I think I’m pretty solid when it comes to hitting. I saw that their blocks were going straight up and not really pressing, so I took advantage of the awkward angles, I was hitting that instead of hitting into them.”
Likewise, North Penn had a number of guys play big roles. Bobby Dean gave Landes some help with power swings, while senior Raj Patel spurred a couple of serving runs, Ryan Ko set up the offense and senior Lucas Hill was directing traffic and keeping the energy up.
After winning by six in the third game, Upper Dublin was in a much tighter contest in the final game. UD took a 20-15 lead, but the Knights with Hill serving ripped off the next five to knot things up yet again. A long rally by both sides ended on a North Penn hitting error.
Albert Sungenis followed that with a big block for the Cards, part of a strong game at the net, then Madden put down a kill to give the Knights a 23-20 edge. Landes got one back for North Penn, but Madden answered that with a kill and the Knights were called for lifting the ball to end the contest.
“It’s a matter of staying engaged for the entirety of the match,” Genova said. “It’s for them to determine, but it’s something they’ll try to answer the next couple days and hopefully they do.”
The District 1 power rankings released on April 27 had North Penn at 13 and Upper Dublin at 14 with the top 12 teams advancing to the tournament. Both squads have some tough games coming up and Choi figured his team will need to win at least two of its four remaining games to slip into the playoff mix.
“This is something we’re hoping to keep going,” Choi said. “We’re right on the border, we’re trying to make this last push in the last two weeks.”