ROYERSFORD — Cindy Nicholson has overcome a couple of pretty serious knee injuries over the last two years to become a strong outside hitter for the Spring-Ford volleyball team.
And she was hitting the ball hard again Tuesday night, in the opening round of the District 1-AAA playoffs against visiting Ridley. But just as importantly, she also knew when you lay back and tip the ball over the defense, which she did successfully at several key points during the second game as the nervous and error-prone Rams were struggling to put the Raiders away.
Spring-Ford pulled out a close win in that one and then cut down on the mistakes in the third game to complete a 3-0 sweep by scores of 25-18, 25-22, and 25-12. With the win, the Rams (17-5) advance to the second round for the second year in a row and will host the winner between Mount St. Joseph and Great Valley on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Josie Swenson led the winners with 11 kills and five blocks, Nicholson had seven kills and a block, Catherine Burger contributed 31 assists and eight digs, Madden Sciubba had six kills without an error, and Amanda Venuto and Tara Colgan each had 14 digs.
"I think it was our district jitters,' said Nicholson, who bounced back from an ACL injury during her sophomore year and a meniscus tear as a junior. "I think we all had it. I think it was very obvious, but we fought through it. The last game was the Spring-Ford volleyball we always play.'
"We made a lot of errors in the first two games,' said Spring-Ford coach Josh McNulty, who recorded his 50th career win with the Rams. "I told them if we keep making errors like that, we're going to have our work cut out for us down the road. We had double the errors in the first two games that we did in the third. I think they were a little excited, jittery, after a good season.'
Spring-Ford, the no. 8 seed, led the first game the rest of the way after breaking a 6-6 tie, but it wasn't easy to put away the 25th-seeded Raiders (12-10). The hosts were up by just a 20-18 score before running off five straight points to clinch it on a kill by Swenson off an assist by Nicholson, a block by Sciubba, a kill by Nicholson, and two straight points by Swenson.
Then Spring-Ford ran off eight points in a row on serves by Burger after Ridley had scored the first three in the second game. But once again, the fiesty Raiders hung around and closed to within 14-13.
Then Nicholson dinked one over a double block for a two-point lead and shortly after that, she broke a 15-15 tie with a slam off a pass from Burger. Still, Ridley failed to fold and trailed by just a 23-22 score, but the Rams wrapped it up on a service error by the visitors and another tip by Nicholson.
"I think we got a lull,' said Nicholson, who could have had at least several more kills except for some excellent digs by the Raider defense. "Sometimes the best thing to do is slow it down. I did it (tips) three times and they didn't pick it up.
"Their libero was amazing. She was everywhere. She's a tough opponent. She held their team together, and they're very scrappy.'
After that, the revitalized Rams made fairly quick work of the third game as they blasted open a 12-8 score with 13 straight points and Swenson finished up the night with a kill.
"The third game, I refocused them and told them we had to limit our errors,' said McNulty.
"It's everything,' Nicholson added concerning the limiting of mistakes. "It really is.'
Nicholson has certainly had her ups and down with the injuries and still doesn't think she's back to 100 percent.
"I've had a lot of injuries,' she said. "I tore my ACL as a sophomore and tore my meniscus as soon as I came back. It was hard for me. It really was after I came back and was trying so hard.'
But that hasn't kept the Rams senior from improving her play and helping to send the Rams to a second district game at home for the first time ever.
"And the first time we've made it eighth in the district,' Nicholson added. "It's really exciting. We can't sleep.'
"As the year has progressed, she has become a very solid player,' said McNulty. "She wants nothing more than to get better. She's a great kid. If she makes a mistake, she wants to know what she did wrong, and she got the spot as my outside hitter.'