LANSDALE — To still be playing volleyball in early November is a beautiful thing. Three Montgomery County teams entered the Souderton High School gym Saturday afternoon, and only the Lansdale Catholic Crusader left victorious.
Through four grueling sets against the Pope John Paul II Golden Panthers, the Crusders staved off a Golden Panther rally and were victorious, guaranteed to play another day.
The match against their rival was a milestone victory, but the Crusader's took Monday evening to reevaluate their goals in preparation for their Class AA semifinal match against Delone Catholic at Garden Spot High School on Tuesday night.
"We had a fantastic game ... we knew we had to take care of business and we were hungry, focused and competitive,' said Brynne Taylor, by and large the standout player for the Crusaders thus far in the postseason.
"We had so much energy, we were riled up from the win, but we all knew as a team we need to take these next two games one point at a time, we need to stay focused on the task at hand.'
Taylor's contribution has greatly emboldened her team on the road to the state championship. Her 13 kills, including the game-winner, was the catalyst the Crusaders needed. Similarly, Taylor's performance in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship put her squad over the top, but it has been the support of her fellow five seniors that gives the star middle the boost she needs.
"They're such a tight-nit group, and Brynne does stand out, she deserves the accolades, but they have all been so focused,' coach Joanne Pisch said.
The middle position is the single spot on the court that requires the perfect pass — high and tight to the net — to run an effective attack. When a dig or serve-receive is passed off the net, setters are often forced to throw the ball outside for a predictable swipe at the ball. Taylor's team-high 265 kills on the season have been entirely dependent on her team's adept ability to pass; yet the task is still upon her to finish strong.
"The passers on our team have helped me become the player I am today,' Taylor said. "We have friendships on and off the court and it helps to be close, we trade energy and work every day in the gym.'
The Crusaders' quarterfinal win was nothing more than the result of drills exacted ad nauseum in practice. Up 24-23 in the fourth set, two sets to one, the Crusaders needed only one point while the Golden Panthers needed three. While the momentum was still in the Crusader's possession, losing that fourth set after dropping the third could have been disastrous. But, with the match on the line, Pisch called timeout and laid it out very simply.
"We were in the huddle and we knew we had to rally and win the point so we could move forward,' Taylor said.
"I try to make practices as situational or as game-like as possible,' Pisch said. "Sometimes we'll be doing serving drills and I'll stop and say, ' Brynne, get on the line, it's 23-24 in the state championship and you have to score three points before the other team gets one,' just so they know the pressure.'
The Crusaders' solution in a very similar situation against the Golden Panthers? Feed Taylor the ball.
Her game-high 13 kills had helped the Crusaders' to within a point of victory, so Taylor was the obvious choice for one more. And even despite the fact that the Golden Panthers were certainly wise to the opponents' attack, Taylor wasn't to be stopped.
"We look to each other for leadership and guidance,' Taylor said. "(Setter) Kaitlyn (Kushman) gave me a beautiful set and I gave it all I had in me to kill the ball.'
Her kill over the Golden Panther's triple block was a resounding statement over their regular season rivals. The girls flocked together and collapsed in a dog pile at center court, and while they enjoyed the win at the time, Pisch was certain not to let the thrill of victory last too long. After all, there's still two games to be played.
"Throughout the season we've been fortunate to win games in all types of situations,' Pisch said. "You're learning lessons when you get contested matches.'
Their goal all season long has been painted on the coach's box with a bulls eye and the numbers 3-2-1, a personal note for the seniors to achieve three great milestones this season: a third District 13 title, a second Philadelphia Catholic League title and their first state championship.
"That box is a reminder everyday what we work toward as a group,' Taylor said. "We've worked for four years to achieve this goal and honestly it is one of the most fulfilling feelings when the hard work pays off.'
With two of the three goals already scratched off, the Crusaders will look next to Delone Catholic on Tuesday night to earn their trip to the state championship match.
"For the second time all season's we're the underdog,' Pisch said in reference to their game against then-undefeated Cardinal O'Hara in which the Crusaders won in 5 sets. "The PIAA ranks Delone Catholic as the number one team in the state, so we've got to bring our A-game.'