WEST NORRITON — It was as if the Upper Merion girls volleyball team had already marked the ' W' on their Vikings calendar for their matchup against Henderson High School of West Chester. However, the Warriors had a different idea all together.
After winning the first two sets handily, the Vikings hit the wall in the third. Upper Merion lost the set 26-24 and the same feet dragging carried over into the fourth. Nevertheless, the Vikings found their stride late in the fourth game and will move onto the District One finals against Downingtown East.
Upper Merion shut down WC Henderson 25-15, 25-19, 24-26 and 25-21.
"I think after you lose the first two games, the pressure comes off,' said Upper Merion coach about the Warriors team who played as if they had nothing to lose. "They kept trying different things and we didn't adjust well.'
The first two were business as usual for the Vikings. Melanie Ingram put up her typical numbers of 14 kills and 17 digs. Ashley Shannon chipped in with six kills, three aces, 14 assists setting and 10 digs. The Warriors never quite found a rhythm through the first, but then Hailey Adler of WC Henderson, an outside hitter, started finding success hitting out of the middle.
"It's difficult to watch (her sliding into the middle) and we struggled with it,' said Vikings' middle Eryn Brady.
"We haven't seen an outside hit out of the middle like that yet, so we had no model to go by,' Funsten said.
Funsten praised his players for their experience in recognizing the unusual attack by the Warriors. Brady was often left defending solo out of the middle, trying her best to watch both the opposing middle and the attack by Adler, while her teams were dropping back to cover.
"The couple times they got caught backing off the net they should have been up blocking,' Funsten said. "Really, I just thought we kept our poise and we got some touches and then regained our composure.'
The Vikings and Warriors were hand-in-hand down the stretch, trading point-for-point until the teams were knotted at 24-24 with the Warriors eking out the victory.
In the fourth, both sides were stuck in a rut of non-kill side outs — both teams struggled to put together a sound offense and ended up giving points to the other team. At one point, the Vikings scored eight of nine points off of the Warriors' mistakes. Brady once again came up big with five of her seven kills in the final set.
"Coach Funsten always says that we need a side-out kill on the court,' Brady said. "You don't always have to crush it, you just have to hit it at the right spot.'
On Saturday, the Vikings will face the foe that downed them in the district tournament last season, Downingtown East. However, the Vikings have already had their revenge, beating the Cougars in three sets and knocking them out of the state tournament.
"It's just going to be two good teams playing each other — two very good defensive teams,' Funsten said. "We're not the same team they saw back then, and they're not the same team we saw back in August.'
The District One championship will be held at Norristown Area High School at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.