In mid-October when Upper Merion's Melanie Ingram scored her 1,000th kill, she accomplished something really special.
"I have been coaching for 20 years, and there has been no hitter in Montgomery County to accomplish what she has accomplished,' said coach Tony Funsten just days shy of earning his 600th victory as a coach.
To put the milestone in perspective, the Vikings, now 25 games into the season, have only had five matches that went more than three sets with no fifth set all season. An in the last four seasons, the Vikings have earned three district titles and made one stop to the state championship. So, assuming that Ingram has not missed a start, she has averaged 10 kills a match throughout her varsity career.
"Teams prepare for and they really don't know what to do, because most blockers can't control what she hits,' Funsten said.
But Saturday afternoon (noon) at Souderton High School, Ingram and the Vikings will face another career 1,000-kill player in Melann Amory from Southern Lehigh. She, like Ingram, is the Spartans' go-to player, the automatic side-out, their power hitter who leads the team by example. And, like Ingram, every team knows the ball is coming to her but just aren't able to shut her down.
"In any competitive situation, you don't necessary expect to stop a good player — they're going to get their points — you just have to control them,' Funsten said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.
In the first round of PIAA Class AAA playoffs, Amory led her team with 18 kills and three aces in three sets over Delaware Valley. Ingram, against West Chester Henderson in the first round, also had 18 kills, albeit through four sets, but she contributed 11 digs and three aces in the victory.
The Spartans, who coach Don West Jr. described to the Allentown Morning Call as being the most athletic team he's ever coached, are a team comprised mainly of juniors with just two seniors: outside-hitter Amory and setter Nicolette Yates. The Vikings, with only Ingram as a senior starter, are a youthful team as well.
"Ever since Don got there, they've gotten better and better each year,' Funsten said.
In terms of height advantage, the Vikings outsize the Spartans in the middle, albeit by a few inches, through the six-foot combination of Niki Carpenter and Eryn Brady. The three 5-foot-10 players on the Spartans roster are no slouches either, Amory being one them, the middles the others.
"Physically, neither team has an advantage, and our statistics are scarily identical,' Funsten said.
He mentioned that the Spartans are team that prides itself on making very few mistakes. For the Vikings, who won 20 out of 25 of their games in straight sets, have won their most recent three games in four sets, part of which was due to unforced errors on the Vikings' part.
"We know we can't do that against Southern Lehigh and expect to win a set,' Funsten said. "Unless you're a physically dominant team, which neither is, we have to gain an advantage on every play.'
The match itself should be great one, possibly one of the best matches of volleyball all year, and it'll come down to the team that makes the least mistakes. Amory and Ingram will be the ire of the opposing squads, but it'll need to be up the other five players to get the job done.
"As quickly as you can figure out her tendencies the better you'll be able to get that player under control,' Funsten said. "You have to know where she is, but don't overcompensate.'