CONCORD — When Garnet Valley gets on the bus Saturday to head to Cumberland Valley High School to take on North Allegheny in the PIAA Class 4A volleyball championship, it will be six years to the day since the Jaguars won their only state title.
Senior setter Maddie Wood, the 2021 Daily Times Player of the Year, remembers that day vividly, though she was only in the sixth grade.
“My dad (Greg) was an assistant coach, so I rode on the bus,” said Wood, who will play beach volleyball at the University of Tampa. “I just remember how excited everyone was. It was such a great run. It’s kind of similar to the run we’re having now.”
The 2016 squad was an underdog to Parkland in the final as the fifth seed out of District 1 and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win in five sets. This season, the Jaguars (25-1) were underdogs to Unionville in the District 1 final and Parkland, the No. 1-ranked Class 4A team by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, in the state semifinals. They would win both of those matches.
Now they face a North Allegheny team that has dominated Class 4A since Garnet Valley won its championship. The Tigers (21-1), ranked second by the PVCA, are vying for their sixth straight Class 4A title and have done so in dominating fashion. They are 128-3 over the last six seasons, 384-36 in set play. The Tigers have only been taken to five sets 10 times in that span, including once by the Jaguars in the 2017 semifinals. Yet the Jaguars aren’t nervous.
“I’ve actually been speaking with Lizzie Herestofa, the libero on that (2016) team,” Wood said of the 2016 Daily Times Volleyball Player of the Year. “She said, ‘We didn’t come this far to only come this far,’ so I’ve been thinking about that every game. We have to push harder. We’ve been the underdog in a lot of situations like Garnet Valley was then. I just think it’s really cool how similar it is.”
North Allegheny is led by senior setter Mia Tuman, who has signed to play at Ohio State, the No. 5 team in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25. Tuman has compiled 356 assists, 223 kills, 217 digs, 54 blocks and 30 aces. She was the Pennsylvania Gatorade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year last season.
Libero Caroline Curran, who is headed to Ohio University, paces the defense with 412 digs. Jaydn Perkins, Carissa Treser and Ella Deeter pace a balanced attack with 200, 184 and 182 kills, respectively.
“We’ve constantly proven ourselves to every obstacle we’ve faced,” senior outside hitter Sara Weins said. “Parkland was our biggest obstacle and we overcame it, so I think now we know; we have this confidence from the Parkland game that we’re going to go into the state championship game and if we play well and play our game, we can beat them.”
Garnet Valley is third in the PVCA poll and has won 21 matches since suffering its only loss, a 3-2 decision to Unionville on Sept. 9. Maddie Wood thought a run like this was possible from the first scrimmage. Others took a little longer to come around.
“The first game against Unionville is when I noticed that it kind of clicked,” said senior libero Madison Snelgrove, who will play volleyball at Rutgers-Camden. “Not only did I think we could do great things, but we could achieve it. That was in the future for us.”
“We’ve been working for this since our freshman year,” senior outside hitter Kelly St. Germain said. “This was our main goal to make it to the state championship and now that we’re finally here it just feels like all of our hard work has paid off.”
Weins recently took a cue from Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who after his team clinched a playoff berth said the Phillies needed 13 wins to win a World Series. They came up short, winning 11 and falling to the Houston Astros in six Series games, but it gave Weins an idea. Before the district tournament started she said the team needed eight wins to be state champs.
“It’s been nothing short of amazing to do what we’ve done,” Weins said. “We said eight wins away every time and now we have one more to go.”
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