FAIRVIEW VILLAGE >> Tony Funsten called it déjà vu.
The No. 9 Upper Merion girls volleyball coach saw his team lined up across No. 8 Methacton just a week prior in the Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals. On Thursday, the result was identical.
Coming off a first-round sweep of No. 2 North Penn, the Vikings took a five-set win (18-25, 25-22, 25-22, 18-25, 15-9) over the Warriors in the second round of the District 1 Class 4A tournament at Methacton. Like the PAC semifinals, Upper Merion (18-5) dropped the first and fourth sets while taking the second, third and fifth.
With the win, the Vikings advance to the quarterfinals and will head to top-seed Unionville Saturday at 10 a.m.
“Now we’re in the top eight and we have a monumental task,” Funsten said, looking ahead at unbeaten Unionville.
FINAL — No. 9 Upper Merion 3, No. 8 Methacton 2
Vikings take the fifth set 15-9.
In a repeat of the PAC semifinal, Upper Merion defeats Methacton in five sets to advance and will take the winner between top-seeded Unionville and No. 16 Downingtown East Saturday. pic.twitter.com/nRMnqvZC0c
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) October 28, 2022
Raven Albrecht was a two-way dagger in the hands of Upper Merion, serving a staggering 11 aces while coming up with 16 digs defensively.
But it wasn’t just the Vikings who saw some dominance from the service line. Mandy Baldwin helped Methacton (16-5) take the first set by igniting an 11-point clinic from the service line.
“I felt we started great, but Mandy Baldwin got hot,” Funsten said. “ … All of a sudden, a game where we had control, they had control and we didn’t recover from it.”
Baldwin served three aces and made 16 digs on the night. The Warriors were also physical at the net with seven seven blocks — four of which came from Jacque Rizzuto.
Neither team quite made another double-digit rally, but traded blows by finding points in smaller doses.
“I think our defense was a little bit better than last time,” Upper Merion sophomore Sophia Schweikert said. “Serving is one of the most important aspects of volleyball because if there’s no serve over the net, there’s no play at all, so I think the serving and the defense was so important.”
Schweikert delivered 19 kills while Caitlyn Daywalt supplied 32 assists for the Vikings. The Warriors cut their second-set deficit to two points by scoring three straight before Yalerie Acevedo iced the frame with a tip at the net.
Tied 22-22 in the third set, Upper Merion found three points in part by a ball hit into the net and another one landing out of bounds. During the fourth set, both teams were locked in a 17-17 tie before Methacton pulled away late.
“We prepared for them all week. They are a very good team. I thought the girls played well, they didn’t give up. Kayla Ginther and Mandy had a real good game as well,” said John Conran, who filled in for Warriors coach Alex Notaristefano as the latter was out due to COVID-19, according to Conran.
Like the PAC semifinal, Methacton took Upper Merion to the wire and put on a show against its conference foe.
“We’re a very close-knit team. That’s what makes them so good and gets us to a district playoff game,” Conran said. “So it’s definitely all on the girls and their relationships with each other.”
Unionville won’t be the first top-seeded team in District 1 the Vikings have faced as of late, having fallen to 3A Pope John Paul II in the PAC championship last week.
Between a pair of five-setters and a clash with the undefeated Golden Panthers within a two-week span, Upper Merion is getting its licks in ahead of the district quarterfinals.
“I definitely think the tight competition is gonna help us because we can work together even more,” Schweikert said. “With us rallying as much as we did this match, we can definitely play with the higher teams in the district.”
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