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Palmyra notches first district win

In just their second year as a varsity program, the Palmyra boys volleyball team picked up its first district playoff win in Thursday's 3-1 victory over Brandywine Heights

WEST LAWN - Supposedly, you have to be able to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run.

Unless you're the Palmyra boys' volleyball program. Then you just hop right out of the crib and start dashing around.

Still in its infancy, second-year varsity program Palmyra has its first district playoff win already, courtesy of Thursday night's 3-1 triumph over Brandywine Heights in a Class AA opening-round tussle at Wilson High School.

Led by 11 kills from sophomore Joey McInerney and a superb all-around effort from freshman Tyler Sheaffer (8 kills, 12 assists, 5 digs), the 10th-seeded Cougars pulled out a tight first set by a 27-25 score, endured a 25-18 second set stumble, then took the last two by scores of 25-22 and 25-16 to secure a spot in Monday's quarterfinal round against No. 2 York Suburban.

They grow up so fast.

"It means a great deal," said Palmyra coach Clark Sheaffer, who orchestrated the program's rapid rise to postseason-caliber. "It is nice, it's a great thing. I don't even think we played that well tonight, but to have this in the second year, that's awesome."

Particularly when you consider the fact that the boys program at volleyball program at Palmyra hasn't even been around long enough yet to be a full-fledged member of the Mid-Penn Conference or receive full school district funding, although it is sponsored by the district.

None of that mattered on Thursday night, particularly not after McInerney's final kill of the night on match point officially secured the program's inaugural postseason victory.

"It's really awesome," McInerney said with a grin. "We've been trying really hard, going to practice every day. We really wanted to win. And if we win the next round, we'll be in states. That would be awesome."

With the Bullets boasting a 10-3 record coming in and a big-time outside hitter in senior Logan Gehman, the Cougars, now 10-7 after their fourth straight win, had their work cut out for them throughout a tight first set that went to the limit and beyond.

But with the help of Mike Hall serving out the final two points, Palmyra squeezed out that opening set, which provided a cushion for a somewhat lackluster second-set effort.

"It was kind of nerve-racking at first, because we did not want to lose," McInerney said. "When we lost that second game, that was really bad and we had to come back and gain the momentum back. But I think we did  well then."

"We were able to squeak out the first game, which is big for us," Coach Sheaffer said. "But because we squeaked out the first one, we didn't really come to play in the second one. But then they did finish the third and fourth games."

And they did it together, getting contributions from all over the place in addition to McInerney's fine work.

Steady seniors Ben Rusling (18 assists, 2 aces), Tanner Yaw (5 digs) and Evan Aftosmes (3 blocks, along with Hall) all helped the cause as the Cougars pretty well controlled the last two sets despite the absence of starter Collin Nissley because of illness, playing particularly well in the fourth to close it out.

"It was a team effort. Everyone did their part," McInerney said. "Even people that haven't been to practice - Tanner and Sam (Sheils), they were at camp for middle school, but they showed up and did well."

Now, can they do it again on Monday? Maybe, maybe not, but any more success that comes Palmyra's way this season will simply represent a few added cherries on top of the sundae. Or another kind of topping, from the coach's perspective,"

"It's gravy," Sheaffer said of any additional victories. "It's gravy from here on in. But the kids, they want it. They realize that we can do this, that we can get to the next level. And I do, too, of course. Getting into districts is one thing, winning the first game is a totally different one. We want to go as far as we can."