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After flipping its record from a year ago, Spring Grove is back in districts for the first time since 2011.

The Rockets finished last season at 5-11, but head into Monday's District 3 AA quarterfinals with a 11-5 record in 2015, needing one more win to secure a trip to the state tournament.

Spring Grove's complete 180 from last year started much earlier than the first day of spring practices on March 2. Instead, it started months earlier in Lancaster, when coach Mike Magalski and several of his players competed in adult tournaments throughout the winter.

Magalski, a Spring Grove alumnus who played college volleyball for St. Francis University, played alongside his Spring Grove players in these tournaments while he coached. He played libero sometimes to give his middle hitters a chance to focus on offense. He moved to other positions other times to challenge players in different situations. When he couldn't make a game, assistant coaches would take his spot and do the same thing.

"It was a cheap alternative that worked out well," Magalski said. "We got to play guys that have played college, at all levels, and some of them that still play. It was a very nonchalant, fun, let's just go out and play and keep touching the ball all winter so we could come out strong against Chambersburg, which is what we did (in the season opener)."

That season-opening match against Chambersburg, a four-set victory for the Rockets after dropping the first set, provided Magalski and the Rockets with assurance that all of the time logged during the winter paid off.

It also reminded them just how good they can be when senior Dalton Forbes is healthy. Spring Grove got off to a 4-1 start last season, but limped to just one more win when Forbes was sidelined by knee tendonitis. Although they kept losing games, Forbes' injury forced a young Rockets team to "grow up rather quickly," Magalski said. Setter Austin Muff, the other of Spring Grove's two current seniors, learned to play without relying on Forbes, while the other hitters were forced into more prominent roles.

With Forbes back in the fold in 2015, the Rockets posted a winning record in YAIAA play and went 5-0 in out-of-conference games.

"We always thought of this year as being our year," Muff said. "Last year with Dalton's injury, we were hoping it would be similar, but Dalton got hurt. We were just a young team after that, but this year we definitely knew that we were capable of doing it. We just had to stay healthy."

More confidence was added after a five-set win at Dallastown in mid-April.

"That was kind of the turning point in the season," Forbes said. "Beating Dallastown meant we could beat most of the teams in our league. It gave us so much life."

Now, all of the Rockets get their first opportunity in a district playoff game. Spring Grove, ranked sixth in the district for class AA, will play Lancaster Mennonite, ranked third, in the quaterfinals on Monday. The site and time of that game will be determined after Thursday's first-round games.

Last week, Magalksi, Muff and Forbes took a trip to Lancaster to watch the Blazers play Cocalico in a tiebreaker for first place in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Division II, and liked what they saw.

"We scouted them, we took some video," Muff said. "They're a great team, but I think we match up well against them. We're kind of short, but Lancaster-Mennonite also has a lot of those short players. They're also good players, but they don't have that height. Since we both are a little bit shorter, we can match up better against them, I think."

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