East Marlborough >> No. 2 seed Unionville, playing its first volleyball match in eight days, shook off some early rust and swept Downingtown West, 3-0, Thursday in the second round of the PIAA District 1 4A tournament, posting scores of 25-20, 25-13 and 25-18.
The Indians (21-2) started slowly in Game 1 against the 15th seeded Whippets, falling behind 12-8, and called a timeout to regroup. Downingtown West was coming off a 3-0 win against No. 18 seed Central Bucks West two days earlier in the District 1 4A first round.
Unionville junior outside hitter Sophie Brenner, who led the attack with 12 kills Thursday, said, “We were a little rusty at the beginning – we had a first-round bye, and we hadn’t played since Sun Valley [a 3-0 win Oct. 16]. We got our heads together, cleared our heads, and said, ‘This is where it stops, this is where we’re going to start coming back,’ and we did.”
Indians junior setter Ashlyn Wiswall, who dished out 33 assists Thursday, said, “We just kind of had to get back into the game, we hadn’t played in a while. We had to feel how to play again in a game scenario, so I think once we realized we had to step it up, we started to get back into it.”
Unionville came back quickly to tie the score at 13-13, then gradually built a small lead the rest of the way in the 25-20 win.
“I think in the middle of the first set, we started to work together better, we started to flow a little more, our passing became a lot better – it’s really all about team chemistry,” said Brenner. “We have a really young team this year, and all of us work together so well. We’re all really good friends on and off the court, so we kind of know how to motivate each other, and we knew what works best with each player.”
The Indians turned it on in the second set, winning 25-13, and got plenty of help from Brenner, Wiswall, senior middle blocker Kat Tuerff (eight kills for the match), sophomore middle blocker Genna Weeber (six kills) and freshman outside hitter Maddy Lowe (seven kills, three aces).
Unionville head coach Stephanie Smith said, “We had a bit of a slower start in Game 1, we hadn’t played in [eight days], but once we warmed up and started playing together and got back into a rhythm, we came back. Our defense came through – [sophomore] Emma Yin played great defensively, and Ashlyn Wiswall always puts up great sets – she’s a very, very consistent player. If the passes are off, she’s going to find a way to put up a hittable ball, and she did a great job of that tonight. Sophie Brenner is a strong player all the way around; her defense and hitting was pretty essential to our win.”
Downingtown West (14-8), who came into Thursday’s contest having won six of its last seven matches, went ahead in the third set 8-5, but the Indians came back, sprinkling in some well-placed hits by Weeber and Tuerff to prevail 25-18.
Wiswall said, “We have a young team, and we’ve really been utilizing the underclassmen this year, especially since [sophomore middle blocker] Emily Harper and Maddy Lowe, they’re two really big hitters, along with Genna Weeber, bring a really big [advantage] to our team. Emma Yin is really a good choice for us at libero – she’s playing really well under pressure [of big hits]. And we’ve got a lot of positive energy this season – when someone misses a pass, we don’t get down, we realize it [sometimes] happens.”
For Downingtown West, the leader Thursday was senior Audrey Jones, a University of Connecticut volleyball commit, who had 13 kills. Other contributors included junior Maddie Weller (four kills), freshman Camryn Tuffner (three kills, two blocks), freshman Darby Weller (two kills. three blocks), junior Lea Fillidore (10 digs) and sophomore Jenna Schuda (12 assists, two aces).
Smith said, “I think Downingtown West is a very strong team; they had a tough go in the middle of their season, and I think that’s why they wound up as the 15th seed.”
“D-West played pretty well tonight, they have some really big hitters,” said Brenner. “I think it all came down tonight to us kind of catching up; we’ve done a really great job of coming back from deficits. We definitely stepped up our game tonight, and I’m proud of the way our team played.”
Whippet head coach Dave Parrish said, “We had the advantage early on, but Unionville got their rhythm going, got their passing going, and when they’re in system they’re very, very good. They kind of overpowered our block, they served us very tough and got us out of system, so they were getting a lot of down balls, free balls that they were turning right around into points. We played a little better in the third game, our ballhandling got a little better but still not good enough to compete at that level.”
Like Unionville, D-West has a young squad this fall, and although its season ended Thursday, Parrish sees promise in his youthful Whippets.
“Our team was gritty this season,” said Parrish. “They will make a lot of mistakes, but they also do a lot of good things, that’s the youth part. You can see some plays that are out of the normal, like a first ball coming back over, that’s where we struggle and that’s youth showing, inexperience. So there’s a lot of talent [here], I think we’ll be much better in the coming years.
“All our girls worked hard this season, they improved throughout the year; our blocking improved a lot from the last time we played these guys [on Sept. 24, a 3-0 Unionville win].
“Unionville is also improved – they’re running a little faster offense and they’re handling the ball better, and if they continue to do that they can go very far in the post-season].”
Unionville’s only two losses this season were to Garnet Valley (3-0 on Aug. 30) and to Bishop Shanahan (a 3-1 defeat Oct. 8). Since the loss to the Eagles, the Indians have won six straight matches.
Already, Unionville has advanced further this fall in the District 1 4A playoffs than last year, when the 20th seeded Indians fell to No. 13 seed Central Bucks West, 3-2, in the district opener. Saturday, Unionville will host No. 7 seed Council Rock North in the District 1 4A quarterfinals.
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