Vikings Prevail in Classic Battle With Hatters

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KING OF PRUSSIA – The atmosphere in Upper Merion’s gym on Tuesday night suggested this was not your ordinary volleyball match.

It wasn’t.
This was one of those special matches that forced the highly regarded Vikings to elevate their game, and they did, rising to the occasion and – much to the delight of the packed out student section - downing a pesky and talented Hatboro-Horsham squad 3-0 in a classic battle (25-20, 25-20, 25-22).
It was hard to tell which team enjoyed this match more – the one that won or the one that didn’t.
“It’s so much more fun to play a good team like this,” Upper Merion junior Liz DiValerio said. “It gets our fans excited, it gets us pumped up. It’s exciting.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” Hatter senior Sara Dougherty said. “Definitely these tougher games make everybody a lot more excited. We look forward to games like this. I know all day during school everyone was talking about it.”
The Hatters gave the Vikings, who are ranked seventh in the latest PVCA poll, something they rarely get during the course of the SOL season – tough competition.
“It was really fun,” junior Alex Galdi said. “It gives us a chance to show how good we are, and against a lot of teams we play, we can’t really do that. That just makes it so much more fun.”
Galdi and DiValerio certainly had a lot of fun hitting from the outside. The duo was all but unstoppable, combining for 27 kills. DiValerio led the way with 15 kills, but both players acknowledge that theirs is hardly a two-woman team.
“We don’t have to rely on one person,” DiValerio said. “We all can make plays and get kills. Our setters are getting the ball to everybody.”
The Hatters don’t boast a whole lot of height, but they have some bangers of their own. Junior outside hitter Ashley Morgan had a team-high 12 kills to go along with seven digs. Sophomore middle hitter Julie Harvey added 11 kills while Julia Simonsen had nine kills.
“I’m happy with their aggression,” Hatter coach Diane Lucas said. “We played very aggressively. We challenged ourselves on picking up the tips and trying to get a fast, effective offense off of every play.”
The Hatters’ forte, according to senior libero Sara Dougherty, is not their net play.
“We’re not the tallest team, so our defense is our key,” she said. “We try to be fast, and our mentality is no ball hits the floor. We try hard for everything.
“Over the weekend we struggled with tips and picking them up, but tonight I thought we did a really good job of that.”
Sometimes even the most relentless defense cannot stop a big hitter. That fact was underscored on a play late in game one. DiValerio slammed down a ball that had kill written all over it, but it was dug up by Morgan. Undeterred, DiValerio took another mighty swing. This one landed on the court for a kill that put the Vikings on top 17-14.
“This is what you train for,” Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said. “You don’t train for easy games. That takes the fun out of it.”
The Vikings opened up a 22-17 lead after another DiValerio kill, and they went on to win by that margin (25-20) with Cassidy Koenig delivering a winner for game point.
In game two, the Hatters led 5-4 after a Morgan kill. The Vikings answered with a 6-1 run, prompting Lucas to call a quick timeout. The Hatters rallied to go on top 15-14 after a Lauren Schmickle winner, and this time it was Funsten calling the timeout.
The Vikings regrouped to go on top 19-16 after a Galdi block at the net, and the Hatters would get no closer than two points the rest of the way. DiValerio delivered a kill for game point, putting an exclamation point on the come-from-behind win.
“The game plan was pretty much to attack from the wings as opposed to the middle because the middle is their strength,” Funsten said. “We wanted to go away from their strength.”
Game three was another war. The two teams were deadlocked 8-8 after a Simonsen kill, and it was an 11-11 game after a Morgan kill, but a Galdi kill was followed by a Kim Landmesser winner, putting the Vikings on top 13-11.
Landmesser had a big defensive night for the Vikings, collecting 16 digs to go along with 19 assists and six kills. Devyn Ingram also had 16 digs.
“We have balance,” Funsten said.
A service ace by Morgan made it a 16-15 game, but the two teams were deadlocked 18-18 after a Viking hitting violation. It was a 22-22 game after yet another Morgan kill, but a service error gave the Vikings a lead they would not lose as they went on to earn the big win.
“The next time we play them I’m sure it’s going to be a different story,” Dougherty said. “I know we’ll win one of the games.
“I’m disappointed, to be honest. I can’t help it, but the way we played kind of eases the disappointment.”
Extra points: Funsten, whose team stayed away from the middle, lauded the performance of middle hitter Lisa Ridgeway. “She just stayed solid the whole game,” he said. Ridgeway finished the night with 10 digs and five kills. Koenig and Katie DeLone each added 13 digs…the Hatters received nine digs from Simonsen and six from Megan Himler. Bonnie Harvey had four solo blocks, and junior setter Lauren Schmickle dished out 35 assists to go along with three kills.