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District 1 Class 4A Volleyball: Kuehl gets more aggressive, Sun Valley pushes on

Sun Valley's Jenna Jones, left, and Laura Stritzinger, right, in action against Cardinal O'Hara earlier in the season, helped the Vanguards to a 3-1 victory over Souderton in the opening round of the District 1 Class 4A playoffs on Tuesday. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

ASTON — Katie Kuehl did not have to be told she needed to be more aggressive if Sun Valley was going to advance to the second round of the District 1 Class 4A volleyball playoffs. She knew she needed to be more assertive, and Vanguards coach Liz Boccella noticed Kuehl needed to pick it up and decided to give her sophomore hitter a break in the second set.

“It was only for one rotation,” Boccella said. “She went back in but that little break helped her.”

Kuehl came back strong with 10 of her team-high 13 kills in the final two sets to send the ninth-seeded Vanguards into Thursday’s second round with a 3-1 victory over No. 24 Souderton. She pounded five kills in the third set and five more in the fourth to give the Vanguards (17-5) a 25-17, 18-25, 25-16, 25-13 victory.

“I knew that my first two sets weren’t my best,” Kuehl said. “The last two sets I knew I had to bring my fire to the court and that’s what I did.”

Determined play enabled the Indians to bounce back from a loss in the first set to even the match. Allisyn Sauerwald set the tone early with a pair of aces as the Indians (12-11) jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Outside hitter Allysa Reiner helped grow that lead to double digits with seven kills.

“We were playing really aggressive, really confident,” Souderton coach Jackie Youngers said. “We play better when we we’re assertive, our hitters calling for the plays all the time and I think we kind of let up a little bit in that third and fourth set. We kind of got a little hesitant and when we’re not playing aggressive and not playing confident, that’s when we start making mistakes.”

Kuehl helped swing the pendulum back in Sun Valley’s favor. She had three kills in a four-point span to put the Vanguards up for good. All three big swings were set up by fellow sophomore Jenna Jones, who finished with 20 assists, 12 digs and nine kills.

“She’s definitely the one I can depend on to get a kill in a bad situation,” Jones said.

Kuehl’s aggressiveness was infectious. Senior outside hitter Gianna Ellis also had nine kills and was part of an outstanding defensive effort with 12 digs. Senior middle hitter Laura Stritziner also was part of that strong defense with four blocks. Libero Kyle Shetter set the tone in the back line with 14 digs, while junior setter Kate McGroarty pitched in with 14 assists.

“When we all come together and play the way we know we can play, that’s when we’re most effective,” Kuehl said. “We’re at our best when we’re playing with a lot of energy.”

The Vanguards continued to play with passion in the fourth set to put the match away. Kuehl had two kills as Sun Valley opened up a 6-1 lead that eventually grew to double digits and sent the Vanguards into a second-round meeting Thursday against eighth-seeded Boyertown, which knocked Sun Valley out of the district tournament last year.

“We want to play Boyertown so bad,” Shetter said. “We felt if we won this match that we can go and play Boyertown again and get some revenge.”

In the Inter-Ac League:

Germantown Academy 3, Agnes Irwin 2 >> Senior co-captain Golda Mehl had 21 kills, and Anahla Thomas and Sydney Chen added 19 kills each, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Owls from suffering their first league loss of the season.

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