Even with an 18-0 record, Palmyra gets nervous. That was evident on Saturday, as the girls volleyball team lost the first set of its District 3 Class AAA match to South Western, 25-20.
The nerves subsided, though, as Palmyra went on to take the next three sets (25-19, 25-15, 25-12) for the 3-1 win to improve to 19-0 and advance to the quarterfinals against Hempfield on Tuesday.
"We have some young girls. Sometimes they get nervous," said Palmyra coach Clark Sheaffer. "We have four strong seniors, we really do, but then we have four sophomores that you can tell get nervous with the weight of the game on them. I don't know if I help a lot, because I'm an intense type of guy. Once they get into the swing of things, they settle down. But they got nervous initially."
The Cougars settled down in the second set, but still found themselves neck and neck with the Mustangs. The two teams traded points back and forth with few runs, until the Cougars went on a 4-0 run to take the second set, 25-19.
"It's districts, so everyone can go. There are no slackers. South Western played really well those first two games," said Sheaffer. "They were passing better than we were, they were digging more than we were and they just played really well. We figured out some things and could settle down."
Sheaffer said that he talked to his team, and told his setter to set the high balls to the outside, but not to shoot toward the outside in an attempt to settle the game down.
"That helped, and so did making some substitutions that I wanted to," Sheaffer said. "We got into a groove of serving and where we wanted to serve against them, too."
Settle down they did, as Palmyra had its largest margin of the day in the third set, as it rallied off six straight points to take a 21-10 lead over South Western. However, up 23-11, the Mustangs took four straight points to creep back to 23-15. What ensued was the longest volley of the afternoon, with Palmyra on the winning end of it, taking all momentum back to its side for the 25-15 third-set victory.
"When you have a long volley, no one on either team can take an aggressive swing or play," said Sheaffer. "When you get that long volley, you take any good opportunity you can get. It can be deflating for the other team, but you just have to work through it."
Up 2-1, Palmyra looked to put away South Western in the fourth set, and thanks to sophomore setter Kirstin West winning seven straight serves, it was able to do just that, taking the final set 25-12 to improve to 19-0.
"She's one of my sophomores that plays a major role. She's my quarterback," said Sheaffer of West. "When she's able to get her serve in, it generates her. When she gets in that rhythm, she's tough."
With the win, the Cougars will advance to the quarterfinals on Tuesday to take on Hempfield, who defeated Warwick 3-0 Saturday in the first round.
Is that the opponent Palmyra wanted?
"I'd prefer not to say," Sheaffer said with a smile.
Palmyra def. South Western
20-25, 25-19, 25-15, 25-12 at Penn Manor
Palmyra stats — Josie Stovall (6 blocks, 16 kills), Rachel Hutchinson (8 digs), Molly Gundermann (5 aces), Kirstin West (43 assists)