UPPER MERION — The Vikings have an uncanny ability to turn garbage into gold. One moment, it seems as if they've been dealt a certain point by the opposing team, and the next moment they're recovered a ball flying into the stands for a point and a kill.
Spring-Ford's attack was strong; when the Rams are able to run their offense, they can hang right with the District One top-seeded Vikings point-for-point. But, without opportunities to run said offense — a result of the Vikings' entire game plan — the Rams couldn't hold onto long serving runs and were bumped from post-season play in three straight games.
Upper Merion rolls into the district semifinals beating Spring-Ford 25-18, 25-15, 25-21.
"(Spring-Ford) is a physical team, they are athletic, they compete hard, and that toughness comes through — if you let your guard down they get up on you,' said Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten after the win. "But, we never let them do that tonight.'
The match opened with intensity not yet fully realized in the gymnasium at Upper Merion High School this season. Packed wall-to-wall with Rams' fans decked in white, who, while outnumbered by the tie-dyed student body of Upper Merion, reached a stalemate in terms of loudness. It was the first time the two teams have met, but the game played like a long-running rivalry.
The Rams celebrated each kill like it was their last, screaming and hugging each other after each successful point. And when they ran their offense, the Vikings had a tough time recovering. But, the Vikings strong serving put the edge in their favor.
"We struggled, they served well and we were getting in trouble on serve receive,' said Spring-Ford coach Josh McNulty. "We weren't able to run our offense as well as we wanted to.'
"We kept (Spring-Ford) off the net with our serving,' Funsten said. "I think our serving was very effective, in fact it was very, very effective.'
Serving a combined 10 aces in the match, the Vikings rallied their attack around the free-balls sent back from the Rams' service receive. Melanie Ingram led the way with four aces, 15 kills and 14 digs. Early on she found the Rams' block, which was solidified by opposite-side hitter Josie Swenson, to be far too solid to blast a ball right through. Instead, Ingram was forced to adjust.
"They really shut me down, not completely, but they gave me a challenge,' Ingram said. "Josie Swenson, their lefty, she puts up a mean block, she's good, she helped teach me how to hit around a block (tonight).'
"My job of the night was to protect my teammates from her just slamming the ball,' Swenson said. "We all know how hard she can hit, she's really good.'
With playing the 6-2 offense, Ingram finds that she is set two different ways throughout the game. One setter sets her tighter to the net, which makes for easier shots down the line, while the other sets her away from the net that sets up hard angle shots. But, with Swenson's block, Ingram had to pull out all the tools from the bag.
"I normally never tip, so I started tipping more this game,' Ingram said. "I started looking through the block more, looking where their hands were and just trying to tool them if I could.'
Funsten said he had instructed Ingram to shorten her approach, which would take away some of Ingram's power, but give her greater ability to direct her attack, and it worked.
"It allowed her to see the block and then all of a sudden things started opening up for her,' Funsten said. "She's got to be smart, she knows how to be smart, but sometimes it's easier to just pound (the ball).'
For the Rams, their intensity never waned. From the first point to the last, they duked out each rally and gave Upper Merion one of the toughest matchups they've seen all season.
"They're the first seed in districts, and we knew it was going to be tough competition, but we just tried our best to keep up with them,' Swenson said.
With the Vikings win, they've earned themselves at least three more games: another District-One Class AAA bout against the winner of Sun Valley and WC Henderson on Thursday at Norristown Area High School and then two more games in the state tournament which begins on November 5.