WESTTOWN >> For every Cinderella in sports, there are favorites who wind up awfully disappointed.
In the quarterfinals of the District 1 4A Volleyball Playoffs on Thursday, it was seventh-seeded West Chester Rustin’s turn to fall to 15th seeded Upper Dublin. The Cardinals knocked off No. 2 Pennridge in round one and are now in the district semifinals.
“I’m an old guy. And the way those (Upper Dublin) kids are playing is the way we used to play,” said Golden Knights’ head coach Harry Bitzberger. “I mean, they aren’t worried about being pretty, they are just hustling, playing with heart and playing until the point is over.”
Employing its throwback style, visiting Upper Dublin (8-4 overall) won it 3-1 and will take on No. 3 Council Rock North on Monday. For undermanned Rustin, the season ends with a 9-3 mark.
“We are kind of using the underdog role to our advantage,” said Cardinals’ head coach Paul Choi. “Being a lower seed, we know that some teams are going to overlook us, so we will take advantage of that.”
Just a few days from knocking off top-seeded Council Rock South, the Knights never seemed to get comfortable on Thursday. Rustin won the opening set and then dropped the preceding three 15-25, 19-25, 23-25.
“We talk about that if all things are equal, you have to out-think your opponent,” Bitzberger said. “We just didn’t do a good job of thinking our way around the court. There were a lot of execution mistakes that I think were related to failing to make the smarter play.”
It also didn’t help that the Knights were without sophomore outside hitter Jane Nelson. She was ill and Bitzberger didn’t find out that she would be unable to play until mid-afternoon.
“Jane is a really good player and she does not come off the court for us,” he explained. “Without her, I had to make some adjustments. If you have to replace somebody, ideally you’d like to do it with one person. I used two people and I don’t know if I necessarily weakened two positions, but it made it difficult.”
“The lack of familiarity with who is beside you that can throw things off. I asked them to do a lot, and they did their best.”
Rustin got off to shaky start, falling behind early in set No. 1. But senior Riley O’Malley’s jump-serve sparked a 7-0 run and then senior hitter Emma Klanica added in some timely kills to spearhead a 13-6 finishing run, and a 25-19 triumph.
The comeback began in set No. 2 as the Cardinals staged a 9-0 rally to win it pulling away. Upper Dublin’s Charlotte Qi notched a kill and a service ace to close it out. The third set was similar as UD used an 8-1 surge to take control, and then hitter Emily Senior delivered three late kills to wrap it up.
“When in doubt, don’t swing into the net, just take it deep and set up your defense,” Bitzberger said, as if schooling his team. “We just weren’t successful doing that. We like to put pressure on our opponent, and we weren’t able to do it. (Upper Dublin) gave us a lesson on how to do it.”
The Knights raced out to a 7-0 start in the fourth, but the Cardinals fought back. There were five late ties, but Upper Dublin finished by converting 10 of the last 15 points. Senior had kills on the final two points and finished the day with 22 kills, three blocks and two digs. Anna Faust (21 digs) and Maggie Faust (nine kills, 13 digs) also contributed, and setter Lauren Price finished with 43 assists.
“We’ve preached from the very beginning that defense wins championships,” Choi said. “We take is seriously.
“It was early (in the fourth set) and we practice for those situations. It was just putting trust in each other and battling back.”
Klanica collected a team-high 18 kills for Rustin.
“Emma (Klanica) is a stud and we rely on her all the time,” Bitzberger said. “But because we didn’t have Jane we had to double down. Some of our young kids had to take on more, kids trying to figure out their way, and sometimes you learn by getting your nose bloodied.”