Landisville >> Following Unionville’s loss to undefeated District 3 champion Hempfield Tuesday evening in the opening round of the PIAA 4A girls’ volleyball state tournament, two senior Longhorns reflected on the end of their memorable four-year run.
The four-year run included Unionville capturing the District 1 4A title last year and advancing all the way to the PIAA 4A state championship final; then posting a sterling 20-3 record this fall, finishing third in the District 1 tourney and advancing to the PIAA 4A state tournament for the third year in a row.
Though the Longhorns’ closely-fought 3-0 loss to Hempfield (scores were 25-19, 25-20, 25-21) Tuesday was tough to take for the visiting squad, Unionville’s two potent senior middle hitters, Genna Weeber and Emily Harper, took time to reflect on what made this 2021 season special.
“Our team is really a family,” said Harper. “We play well together, we play as a team, and I think that’s what got us this far.”
“I’m so thankful for all of the time that I had with the Unionville volleyball team; it’s one of my fondest memories of high school,” said Weeber. “It’s hard to say goodbye, it’s hard to see it go, but there are so many great memories.”
There were six seniors on this year’s Longhorn squad – Weeber, Harper, Emma Yin, Claire Nolan, Kelly Edmunds and RaeAnn Dowling.
“We’ve all played together since seventh grade, so we’re all super close,” said Weeber. “The best part of team is that there’s never any drama, we’re all best friends.”
Unionville head coach Stephanie Smith said, “We had a larger group of seniors this season, which we haven’t had in a while. There were so many of them, and they brought an energy to our team – they wanted to work hard, they wanted to be successful, but they also wanted to have fun. I think them being as positive as they were just made it that much more fun.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team – they’ve worked so hard every day. We have some siblings on the team, so it’s nice, it’s like our team is a family.”
Harper smiled and noted, “I got to play with my sister [sophomore Olivia Harper] this season, which was super-special.”
In the final game of her high school volleyball career, Harper recorded eight blocks and four kills.
“Emily is quiet, but everything that comes out of her mouth is very positive, she’s an extremely positive person,” said Smith. “She always wants to make everybody smile.”
Weeber contributed five kills and three blocks in her final Unionville contest.
Smith said, “Jenna is the one who always brings incredible energy; she’s always able to make everybody laugh. She’s extremely athletic, has a big presence on the court, and I think we’re going to miss that.”
Dowling, the starting setter playing the final game of her Unionville career, dished out seven assists, and Olivia Harper tallied 16.
“Rae has worked so hard over the years to get to that starting setter position,” said Smith. “She is a testament to never giving up, working hard while [trying] to be a huge contributor to the team, which she was this year.”
In the opening set, host Hempfield (21-0) built an early 14-7 lead and never trailed, maintaining at least a five-point lead for the remainder of the match.
Smith said, “We were trying to keep it away from their libero [standout senior Allison Cummings] and move our middles around. Hempfield was able to serve really strong, and we had difficulty getting out of serve-receive.”
In the second set, Unionville built a 15-8 lead, the final two points coming on kills by the Longhorns’ junior outside hitter Maddy Lowe, who recorded 14 kills Tuesday. But Hempfield then went on a 16-3 run, highlighted by some fine play at the net by senior middle blocker Joslene Morgan (11 kills), and won the second set, 25-20.
“We spread the ball around pretty well, our attack was pretty balanced, but Joslene led the way,” said Hempfield head coach Andrew Olree. “We practiced for a long time last night, because we knew how big Unionville was, and how good on the outside they were. And Unionville didn’t give up – they were down a bunch of points in the third set, and they fought to come back – that’s a lot of heart.”
In the third set, Hempfield roared out to a 10-1 lead, and held a 24-15 lead. Unionville, on the brink of elimination, then rolled off a 6-0 run, led by Lowe.
“I love the fact that we never gave up,” said Smith. “At the end of every set, we fought hard to come back. No matter what the score is, 24 to whatever, we’re still going to fight to the end.”
For Unionville, sophomore Ava Van Deusen had seven digs, sophomore Avery Wiswall came up with five, and both Lowe and Yin had four. Juniors Brianna Miller and Jillian Murphy contributed two kills each, and Miller had three blocks.
Prior to Tuesday, Unionville’s only two losses had been to District 1 4A champion Bishop Shanahan. Tuesday’s defeat to Hempfield marked the end of a memorable four-year Longhorn volleyball career for the six Unionville seniors.
Weeber said, “Last year, it was such a relief to be able to come out and play volleyball – we didn’t even expect to have a season, and we wound up being able to go to the state final. It was, like, a rush and so, so much fun. This year, it was really fun to be back in the gym with everyone, to be able to have fans in the stands again, and feel like life is getting back to normal.”
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