UPPER MERION — By the numbers, the matchup between the Upper Merion Lady Vikings and the Hatboro-Horsham Hatters should have been the premier matchup in the Suburban One League American Conference. As Vikings coach Tony Funsten approached his 600th win, the players and coaches are counting down the wins until the 20-year veteran reaches the plateau.
Hatboro-Horsham stood as the main roadblock in the Vikings as-of-now undefeated season, but if Thursday night's game was any indication, the Vikings merely faced a bump in the road.
Upper Merion defeated Hatboro-Horsham in three sets, 25-13, 25-14, 25-13, led by the Vikings' only senior, Melanie Ingram, to remain undefeated in the SOL.
"I'm fortunate to be able to play with these girls,' said Ingram, who had 17 kills, 13 digs and three aces, including the match winner. "We all have the same goal of making it to districts and states.'
As the only senior on the team, her younger colleagues on the court often look up to Ingram. Ingram stands as the only player on the team to have competed on the state finals team of 2010-11. Thus, she is both a leader by her sheer ability, but also by her experiences as a player under Funsten.
"With her on the court, we've finished second, third and fifth [in the state],' Funsten said. "So, she wins. She does what it takes to win, and she has some tremendous traits.'
Playing strongside hitter, Ingram made mincemeat out of the Hatters' blockers. She has the vision to work around blocks — going down the line or dropping her shoulder and ripping angle shots — but she's strong enough to power right through the block.
And while Ingram was shredding the ball on the outside, the Vikings' blockers shut down the Hatters' offensive attack. Middle hitter Nikki Carpenter set the tone in the first game, accounting for more touches than can be counted. On each of her four blocks on the day, the Lady Vikings' bench stood with hands raised with a Duce Staley/Raul Ibanez/Carlos Ruiz-esque cheer of "ROOOOOOOOF.'
"We completely took her (Hatboro-Horhsam middle Dymond Black) out of the game,' Funsten said. "I'm without my starting middle, so my weakside hitter Eryn Brady filled in at middle and did a great job.'
After winning handily in the first game, the Hatters came out with an early lead in the second game, which Funsten referred to as nothing more than junk points, but Upper Merion came right back with a 12-2 run and rolled to a victory. Every player on the team made plays and maintained focus during long rallies and capitalized on strong returns. In situations where most teams would send a "free ball' back over the net, the Vikings attacked with ferocity. "We don't have any free balls, we want to keep the pressure on,' Funsten said.
The Vikings gave more than their fair share of thrilling plays to keep the Upper Merion "Superfan' section ready to leap out of their seats. With match point on the line, Ingram gave them every reason to celebrate, launching a game-winning jump serve that went untouched to the ground and the fans roistered with uncontrollable glee.
"I was surprised,' Ingram said. "I did not expect to finish the game like that.'
With the win, Funsten inches ever closer to the 600 win mark. Now at 594 wins, the staff and players are eagerly looking forward to next Saturday, which if they remain undefeated, the Lady Vikings will play Archbishop Wood.