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Downingtown West earns state berth with hard-fought win vs. Garnet Valley

Downingtown >> Facing a Central League champion Garnet Valley squad that refused to quit, Downingtown West battled all the way for a hard-earned 3-1 win in the PIAA District 1 4A girls’ volleyball quarterfinals Saturday.

With the victory against the No. 5 seed Jaguars, fourth seed Downingtown West (20-2) qualifies for the PIAA 4A state tournament for the first time since 2018. The Whippets also advance to the District 1 4A semifinals, where they will face No. 1 seed Council Rock North Nov. 2. Garnet Valley (17-3) moves to the playback bracket.

Saturday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair, with plenty of momentum changes. D-West won the opening set 25-20; came back from a 16-11 deficit in the second set to squeeze out a 27-25 win; lost the third set 25-15 after an early 11-point run by Garnet Valley; and held off a late Jaguar rally in the final set to win 25-20.

“It was a long, grueling match,” said D-West head coach Dave Parrish. “Today was a day of runs – a lot of runs. You’ve just got to kind of weather the storm, weather the [opposition] runs and minimize them as best you can. It was a fun game to watch, but it probably wasn’t the easiest game to coach (laughs).”

Garnet Valley head coach Mark Clark said, “Downingtown West plays phenomenal defense. We were throwing everything we had at them today. We played well, but they played better.”

Downingtown West dig leaders Saturday were libero Claudia Bournazel (23), Melanie Bowman (18), Bailey Mullen (12), Bella Terra (12), Jenna Schuda (11), Darby Weller (10) and Grace Poluch (7).

“Claudia Bournazel has had the best season of any libero I have ever seen,” said Parrish.

The Whippets’ defense helped D-West maintain a solid lead throughout the first set en route to a 25-20 win. In the second set, Downingtown West started strongly, took a 7-4 lead, but then fell behind 16-11.

“Garnet Valley was playing great defense and serving really tough – it was probably the best serving we’ve faced this year,” said Parrish. “I told our girls to calm down, keep going one step at a time, and get our side out game going, and we can score some points.”

The Whippets then went on a seven-point run to take an 18-16 lead.

“The key to our comeback was our defense and passing,” said Parrish.

The Whippets also got some powerful hitting at the net by Camryn Tuffner, who wound up with a career-high 18 kills Saturday.

But Garnet Valley came back to tie it up at 22-22.

Parrish said, “Garnet Valley has a varied offense and they were coming from all different directions. We could not stop their right side hitter, No. 8 [Kelly St. Germain], and No. 15 [Klaira Zakarian] was really good. And their middles [Sarah Weins and Katelyn Dugery] tipping, that was a problem. They got a lot of points on those short tips that we did not cover very well, and that’s something we have to focus on a little better, defensive positioning from our front row players, but our back row defenders, I have nothing but praise for them.”

Downingtown West fell behind 24-22, and Garnet Valley had three shots to win the set (at 24-22, 24-23 and 25-24). The Whippets hung tough, getting a kill by Grace Poluch to tie the score at 25-25, and then another kill to win the set, 27-25. Poluch came up with a dozen kills and two blocks Saturday.

“Grace did a great job today,” said Parrish. “She’s a middle hitter that probably should be playing outside hitter or right side hitter. She’s a little undersized for a middle, but she’s really had a great season – she’s made good, consistent attacks, provides good blocking, and is getting a lot of touches, a lot of slowdowns that we can turn into offense.”

Ahead 2-0 in sets, D-West jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third set but then endured an 11-point run by Garnet Valley. The Jaguars’ offense was a continual threat throughout the match Saturday, led by St. Germain (15 kills), Zakarian (13 kills), Weins (10 kills as well as 3 blocks) and Maddie Wood (46 assists).

Clark said, “We kept fighting all the way through today, and in Game 3 we came out on fire.”

Parrish said, “We were just stuck in a rotation, and Garnet Valley came out and served as hard as they could, it seemed. They were blocking, and doing everything well. We maybe had a little lapse because we were up 2-0 [in sets], and boom, there we are down 11-3. … We were a little bit winded, we were a little bit late getting to our defensive positions and our attack positions. In an intense match like this, you’ve got to keep pushing, keep fighting through things.”

Downingtown West lost the third set 25-15, but bounced back in the fourth set to build a 17-9 lead. Garnet Valley went on a six-point run to cut the Whippets’ lead to 17-15, but D-West finished on a 6-2 run, helped by a couple of well-placed hits by Tuffner and two Garnet Valley serves into the net.

For D-West, Schuda had another triple double Saturday, with 12 kills, 24 assists and 11 digs, as well as 6 aces and 2 blocks.

“Jenna’s had at least 10 triple-doubles this season,” noted Parrish.

Tuffner had 4 blocks along with her career-high 18 kills, and teammate Jill Arrowsmith had 4 blocks and 3 kills. Bowman dished out 19 assists.

While Downingtown West heads to the PIAA District 1 4A semifinals, Garnet Valley is in the playback bracket to compete for the fifth and final berth in the PIAA 4A state tournament.

“I’m very proud of these girls, they’re on fire all the time, and we fought all the way today,” said Clark. “We fell behind in Game 4 but fought all the way back to 19-18. Our girls have done a great job this season. Our Tuesday night, we’ll come out firing.”

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