UPPER DUBLIN – The first set of the PIAA Class 4A volleyball semifinal was over Tuesday, and for Garnet Valley High it would have to serve as a decision point.
That’s when Maddie Wood took command. As she had done all through what continues as a remarkable season, the senior setter and reigning Daily Times All-Delco Player of the Year called her teammates together for perspective.
The message: Cherish the moment.
“I said, ‘This is how it supposed to be at this level,’” Wood said. “’It’s a dogfight and we have to fight harder.’”
Her point: Though Garnet Valley was down early to an unbeaten Parkland team that had lost just one set all season, there was still a full night of volleyball to embrace. With that nudge, the Jaguars won the next three sets and a trip to Cumberland Valley High for the state championship game Saturday evening at 6.
With Wood everyplace at neutral site Upper Dublin, the Jags improved to 24-1 with a 3-1 victory. After dropping that first set, 25-21, they swept the rest, 25-20, 25-22 and 25-20, dominating at the net and never allowing the top-seeded Trojans to sustain momentum.
Garnet Valley will face five-time defending state champion North Allegheny – a 3-1 victor over Pine-Richland Tuesday – in the state final.
Wood knows the Jags will be ready.
“I know this team is hungry and they’re excited,” Wood said. “We didn’t come this far to only go this far. We’re not done yet.”
That refusal to settle was clear against Parkland, which won five of the final six points to take that 1-0 lead. But after Wood’s calming talk, the Jags jumped to a 4-0 lead in the second set to establish the tone for the rest of the evening.
“That happens every game,” said Jags coach Mark Clark. “I go and write my lineup and then I come in and I huddle with the girls. But she huddles with them first. I don’t even know what she said, but whatever it was, it worked.”
With that pep talk came the responsibility to set an on-court example. That, Wood did by finishing the night with 48 assists, plenty of the big-moment variety.
“She played great,” Clark said. “She betters the ball every time. Her setting is unbelievable. Top tier.”
Not easily dismissed, the Trojans were in a 19-19 deadlock late in the second before Garnet Valley won five of the final six points. With that, the Jags doubled the number of sets Parkland had dropped all season and established that they were much more than more potential shutout victims.
“Everyone is beatable,” Wood said. “Everyone is beatable. You hear that and you think, ‘If we play our best, there’s no one we can’t beat.’ So we had to embrace that. I know people were saying we were the underdog in this one and maybe, on paper, we were. But you just have to rise to your level no matter what. If we do that, there’s no one we can’t beat.”
By the third set, that was plain, as the Jags grabbed a 7-3 lead, survived some predicable Parkland flurries, and won three of the final four points to move within a set of a spot in the final. The fourth set was tense, but when the Jags went on a 7-1 run for a 22-18 lead, they were in command.
Yet that’s when they played even better.
With Sarah Weins (four timely blocks and a kill) joining Abby Hendrixson (three kills and a block) among others in taking control around the net, the Jags doomed Parkland to a 24-1 final record.
Kelly St. Germain chipped in with seven kills, Sarah Wood had 33 kills and two blocks and Isabella Tront added a key block as the Jags survived for at least one more match.
“The past 20 games, with the exception of Unionville, have been a cakewalk for us,” Maddie Wood said. “They were just easy games. Tonight, everyone was so down because we lost that first set and everything wasn’t going their way.”
That’s when she stepped in, as did Clark.
That’s when it turned around.
“I just told them, ‘Go out and play the game you love,’” Clark said. “That’s what they did.”
And that’s what they have an opportunity to do, one more time.
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