West Chester >> Following West Chester East’s 3-0 win against a solid West Chester Henderson girls volleyball squad Wednesday evening, a couple of Vikings reflected on their team, which improved to 11-2 and seventh in the PIAA District 1 4A rankings.
“We’ve had a really electric season so far,” said West Chester East head coach Erin Flynn. “We talk about what it means to be a fierce female athlete every day – that means being dedicated and deciding that you’re going to play your hardest no matter what, and our players have really exemplified that this season.”
The visiting Vikings fell behind on each of the three games at Henderson on Wednesday evening, but rallied in each one to win 25-20, 25-19 and 25-14.
East senior setter and co-captain Elliet Manning, who recently passed the 1,500 career assists milestone, said, “We’ve always had a hard time with this team [Henderson], they’re pretty good but we did a good job of sticking together [today], we were able to keep it together and pull through.
“We’ve been together for so many years, we have a lot of camaraderie and we’ve built up a lot of chemistry with each other. On top of that, we’ve been so supportive this year that our talent just kind of came [along] with it. I think this year our mental game is so much stronger this year, we’ve been able to keep pushing, keep fighting and close out games.”
In Game 1, the Vikings survived a late 6-0 run by Henderson to prevail 25-20. In the second game the Vikings fell behind 15-11 but rallied for a 5-0 run; then with the score 18-18 the visitors won seven of the next eight points to win 25-19.
Flynn said, “Our players never give up – even when things seem to be a little bit off, they don’t give up, they communicate and decide what needs to be done, and then they execute.”
The Vikings were led by the duo of Manning (16 assists, 3 aces, 9 digs) and junior outside hitter Alexa Mork (12 kills, 3 aces, 4 digs), who recently reached the career 500 kill mark.
“Alexa and Elliet really take control of each game that they’re in; they work really well as a duo,” said Flynn. “They do a phenomenal job of finding each other on the court – it’s almost like they’re connected.”
Manning, who will be playing volleyball for Bentley (Mass.) University next fall, said, “Alexa and I played in the same club [East Coast Power] for a while, so we’ve known each other for a long time.”
On Wednesday, the Vikings were served by the serving skill of senior defensive specialist and co-captain Katelyn Kernicky (8 aces, 4 digs).
“Katelyn has really risen to the occasion when it comes to being one of our elite servers,” said Flynn. “It’s been awesome to watch the runs that she gets on when she’s serving.”
Junior libero Izzy Byrne contributed nine digs Wednesday.
“Izzy in the back row is awesome at making sure that she’s in control back there,” said Flynn. “That’s her office, and she makes sure that everyone kind of works around [to achieve] what needs to get done.”
In the third game Wednesday, East fell behind early but gradually pulled ahead, going on a 6-0 run to take a 16-7 lead. Sophomore middle Sofia Keith (5 blocks, 1 kill) played a key role in the Vikings’ runs in Game 3, which the visitors won 25-14.
“Sofia is finding her way on this team, which is awesome,” said Flynn. “Her energy is great to have, and any time she puts up a block or decides to make that last-second execution, it’s always a phenomenal time freeze.”
Flynn also praised the heady play of junior outside hitter Annabelle Kerns.
“Annabelle’s been really smart; this whole season she’s been doing a phenomenal job of watching the other side,” said Flynn. “A lot of players can swing, and that’s a great thing to do, but Annie’s smart and [when] she starts to watch the other side of the court, that’s when she makes her key plays, when she figures out where the open spots are.”
West Chester Henderson (5-7) came into this contest off a couple of 3-0 road wins at Kennett and Great Valley. The Warriors are a relatively young team this fall, with only four seniors, having lost several key players to graduation last spring.
On Wednesday, the Warriors were able to stay close to the Vikings in the first two games, thanks in part to some fine hitting by sophomore outside hitter Olivia Sladicka.
“Olivia has been fantastic for us all-around,” said Henderson head coach Greta Neff. “She’s a really smart player and pretty consistent all around the court.”
The four seniors on the Henderson squad are middle hitters Olivia McClain and Breanna Craig and outside hitters Lilly Person and Emilee Murtaugh.
“Our seniors are a big piece of our team,” said Neff. “Because of our [lack of] depth, players are being asked to do things that they’re not used to doing, and we’re trying to adjust to that. I think Liv [McClain] has done a great job, has done everything that we’ve asked of her, and is very versatile. She’s receiving serves, she’s playing defense, and doing things she normally doesn’t do [as a middle hitter].
“I think Lilly does a nice job on the right side; she’s constantly talking and moving around. Breanna is a nice player who has also had to step out of her comfort zone for us, being asked to play defense in the back row. That’s not normally what she does [as a middle hitter].”
With about 10 games in the regular season remaining, the youthful Warriors are looking to develop further.
“We’ve had some great energy from our kids, we kind of have to put it all together,” said Neff. “We’ve been piecing things together [this season] with some young players who don’t have a ton of experience. … We didn’t do a great job of passing tonight. Our passing has to be better, our serve-receive can, and needs to, be better.”