Coach Tony Funsten, center, talks to his Upper Merion Vikings during a district match against WC Henderson. Rick Kauffman/Times Herald Staff
Coach Tony Funsten, center, talks to his Upper Merion Vikings during a district match against WC Henderson. Rick Kauffman/Times Herald Staff (Rick Kauffman/Times Herald Staff)

UPPER MERION — Once again, two familiar school names will face off in district match, when Downingtown East and Upper Merion duel for the District One Championship on Saturday.

The teams have had a habit of meeting up everywhere from tournaments to state playoff games, but no match is ever the same.

What remains, however, is that the title lies in the balance, and both clubs are determined to take it home.

On Thursday in the first match of the night, Downingtown East took it to Bishop Shanahan for the second time in a month, defeating the Eagles 3-2, just as they did exactly three weeks prior. It was comeuppance for the Cougars, who last season were knocked off in the District One championship in three straight sets by the Eagles.

On the road to the district finals, Downingtown East defeated Upper Merion, who at that point had already qualified for the state tournament, but nevertheless ended their District championship hopes. The Vikings, who did not take the loss lightly, swept the Cougars out of the state tournament just a week later.

And although it seems that the two teams must be out for revenge, it's a whole new season with two fresh-look teams.

"We're not the same team we saw back then, and they're not the same team we saw back in August,' said Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten about facing Downingtown East at the season-opening First Kill Tournament at Freedom High School in Bethlehem. "We're two equal teams, we're just a little bit bigger than they are.'


Advertisement

"Coach Funsten helps us with scouting, but it's the difference between actually playing them and having just played them,' said outside-hitter Melanie Ingram, the only player to earn 1,000 kills at Upper Merion, after their victory over Spring-Ford last Tuesday.

In the semifinals Thursday, both the Cougars and the Vikings had a close look at their opponents at Norristown High School. It could be said that neither team played up to its potential, but still managed to work out a win.

"I think we get worn down and then (the opponent) comes back with a couple strong points and then we're down,' said Eryn Brady, middle-hitter for Vikings who lamented on the team's woes after dropping the third set against West Chester Henderson in what should have been a clean sweep.

"By the fourth we got motivated to win and to get the match over with,' Brady said.

It could be said that same attitude was the culprit behind the Vikings' loss to the Cougars last year: they rested on their laurels.

"Last year I didn't think we were going to lose to them, because we were seeded higher,' Brady said. "When we did lose, it was kind of a wake-up call, and we knew that when we came into states we really needed to buckle down.'

Henderson gave Upper Merion an attack it didn't expect, but even if it took them an entire set to regain composure, Funsten wasn't worried.

"I thought we kept our poise,' Funsten said. "The girls are experienced enough volleyball players to know the couple times they got caught backing off the net they should have been up blocking.'

Winning the fourth district title in six years is no simple task, especially considering that Upper Merion has only five district titles all together. The Vikings will need to rely on their experience to give them the all-important momentum to make sure the mistakes of last year's districts aren't repeated.

But, as far as revenge seeking, Funsten's team has no time for that.

"It's just going to be two good teams playing each other, two very good defensive teams,' Funsten said. "Sometimes the team that plays better doesn't always win, but this time it will be that case.'