SOL Girls' Volleyball District Preview (10-26-17)

Pennsbury and Plymouth Whitemarsh were two of the top teams in the SOL this season.

Pennsbury, Abington and Plymouth Whitemarsh had the distinction of capturing at least a share of their respective conference crowns this season, and after opening round byes, all three will be in action on Thursday night. Pennsbury will host 19th-seeded Central Bucks East while Abington will host 11th-seeded Spring-Ford. Defending district runner-up Plymouth Whitemarsh will host 10th-seeded Central Bucks West. Ninth-seeded Council Rock North will travel to eight-seeded Garnet Valley to take on the defending state champions.

Falcons come together for SOL National title run
Finishing second to Council Rock North last season to break a streak of three straight conference crowns left a decidedly bad taste in the mouths of the Falcons last season. So they decided to do something about it.

“What we really focused on this season was staying disciplined and focusing on our side of the court rather than what’s going on on the other side,” senior Kiley Bucknum said. “(Coach) Falter always reminds us to do the little things before every game, and I think that’s what made us really successful this season. We all played as a unit and didn’t get down on ourselves.”

The Falcons only loss this season came at the hands of Rock North on Oct. 3. They avenged that loss two weeks later with a sweep of the Indians to finish three games ahead of the next closest teams in the battle for the conference crown.

“To win the league title our senior year really means a lot because you have to understand this is the last time you’re gong to play with these girls, play for this school and play in this gym,” senior Sydney Buell said. “It’s your last chance to make a statement to the school and to your community.

“It also was special this year because we took it back from our league rivals, Council Rock North. To get it back from them was so important to the seniors because when it comes to the season, we don’t like them on the court but we’re super close with them off the court because we all play club together. To earn it back from them was great.”

While the Falcons made it look easy this fall, they began building for their title run long before preseason began in August.

“They were motivated,” coach Mike Falter said. “They wanted to get to work as soon as the season was over last year. They planned player-only practices. They witnessed what it was like when a team doesn’t necessarily have the best leadership and what can be the result of it, and that motivated them to have it not happen their senior year. They were motivated since day one.

“We helped them along in terms of the coaching staff by giving them what we thought were the proper tools to be a good leader and to mold the team.”

With only one junior on the roster and a strong core of young underclassmen, the transition this season could have been a difficult one. It wasn’t.

“We were very thankful we had the seniors we have this year because it’s up to them to develop the culture that these sophomores and freshmen need to see,” Falter said. “It was very important that this senior class stepped up to the challenge. I’ve had that conversation with them about what it is to build a winning program.

“We’re fortunate enough that we get good girls and athletes all the time, but it has to be more than that. If we want to be that team that qualifies for states every year, it starts with the culture of the program, and I’m so proud of what they’ve done. This is one of the first years ever we’ve had no drama. A lot is these seniors and just their personalities and how they’re able to connect with all players in the younger grades.”

There’s no mistaking the significant role the seniors have played in the Falcons’ success this season, and their experience playing at the varsity level has been key.

“Last year we were just starting to know how to play with each other,” senior Heather Linker said. “When we got onto the court this year, we already knew what was going on and we were already so used to each other.

“We were locked in and we were ready to step on the court as a team together and ignore everything else going on and just focus on us.”

An unspoken goal for every team is to have fun while winning – and after winning, and the Falcons are no exception.

“After every home game at the end when we win, we do what’s called the Falcon Flap,” senior Julia Vreeswyk said. “It’s kind of like a chant we do and bring it all together.

“Actually, the cheerleaders do it at the football games and we started doing it this year. It brings us all together and it confuses the other team.”

Prior to big games, it’s not uncommon for the players to come in early, turn on the surround sound speakers and dance.

“We’re like a family,” senior Shelby Hastings said. “And we’re hoping our season will go on because we know there are more memories to make, and there’s more in store for us.”

A highlight of this season was defeating defending state champion Garnet Valley. They’re hoping for many more highlights in the days and weeks ahead.

“Knowing it’s our last year, each day we come in more motivated because after every day we know it’s one more checked off the list, and we only have a certain amount of days left,” Buell said. “We want to make the most of our days here as a team, and we want to do our best to try and go as far as we can. We have a lot of potential this year.”

Rebuilt Collonials win share of SOL American crown

Seely Byler was realistic.

The fourth-year PW coach knew that duplicating last year’s undefeated regular season probably wasn’t in the cards for her squad that suffered significant losses to graduation.

“I told them at the very beginning – this was not going to be the same type of season,” Byler said. “We would have to work for every single point. People are going to want to beat us every single match from the best teams right down to the teams we thought we absolutely were going to win. Everybody came out and played their best match against us.”

And still the Colonials were able to win and win a whole lot, rolling to a 20-2 record.

“Coming off our undefeated season last year, we felt like we had a really large target on our backs this season, so we felt we had to perform above and beyond just to do as well as we did last year,” senior captain Taylor O’Brien said. “It was very stressful at times, but we had to overcome it and just work toward our goal, which was to go as far as we possibly good.”

The Colonials were 17-1 in conference play with their only loss at the hands of Abington.

“Losing to Abington was a real mind changer,” senior Emilee Waltz said. “We learned from it, and it was just getting our heads back into the game – not messing around and being smart about everything.”

PW and Abington split their season series and both earned a share of the conference crown. A significant accomplishment for a rebuilt Colonial squad.

“We have players in new positions,” senior captain Bridget McTamney said. “We had some obstacles we didn’t have in years past, but we wanted to do as well as last year.

“We just have really good chemistry, and the majority of the players have been on the varsity for a long time. We have three seniors who have been on the varsity for three years and the other two have been on the varsity two years, so we’ve definitely had time to acclimate to the varsity level.”

The team’s five seniors – O’Brien, McTamney, Waltz, Kaleigh Branagh and Annie Mascio – have been the heart and soul of the team, and although focused on the task at hand, they know how to lighten the mood. When the Colonials needed to relieve stress after tough matches, they have the perfect solution

“We do dance-offs the next day at practice, just to have a team bonding time and to let everything out,” Waltz said.

Even the team’s playlist this year reflects the team’s camaraderie.

“This year we wanted to incorporate everyone coming together by putting a song each person liked on it,” Waltz said. “The key this year was being positive and bringing people up when they’re down, just always staying positive and making sure nobody is feeling excluded and also playing the best we can.”

Seely credited her three captains for providing positive leadership.

“They have the experience,” the Colonials’ coach said. “All three of them are quiet leaders. We’ve had a whole lot of ups and downs, so they’ve kept the team pretty stable throughout the season in terms of emotions, staying positive.

“This year it was one match at a time, making sure we really focused on what we needed to do that very day and getting through each day. The Abingtons and the Upper Merions – those were two incredibly talented teams and to understand we’re going to have some downs. What can we learn from that and extend it into the postseason to make us more prepared.”