READING It's obvious that the Marian volleyball team 'digs' winning.
What might not be so obvious is that the Fillies are winning because they dig.
While Marykate Sherkness and the Marian offense get most of the attention, the defense continues to be the unsung hero of the Fillies' postseason run.
Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the District 11 Class A state tournament, Marian got another outstanding performance from its backline players and cruised to a 25-17, 25-14, 25-19 victory over Country Day Sacred Heart.
"Marian is strong offensively and defensively," said Country Day Sacred Heart coach Lauren Feeny. "They are a well rounded team.
"I think we were about equal to them physically. The difference today was that Marian wanted it more than we did."
In most sports "wanted it more" is normally found in hustle plays and on defense. Volleyball is no exception.
"I thought the difference today was our defense," said Marian coach John "Doc" Fallabel. "We played well offensively, but our defense was really good.
"Nikki (Collevechio), Emily (Pilla) and Lauren (Nietz) were a combined 45-for-45 receiving serves, which is amazing. We also had three players with double figures in digs. When you play defense like that you're going to be tough to beat."
The District 11 champion Fillies (18-1) took control early in game one, using three-point service runs by both Abby O'Donnell and Sherkness to build an 11-6 lead. Behind six kills from Sherkness and four from Grace Boyle, the Fillies took the first game, 25-17.
"It's nice to win that first game," said Boyle. "We took control midway through that game and then just continued to build on that momentum the rest of the match."
Six different players had kills for Marian in the game two as it took control early and never trailed. With Fillies leading 21-14, Pilla served out the game.
"We didn't know much about them coming in, so we just wanted to concentrate on playing our game," said Sherkness. "I thought we had nice balance today. We had a lot of different people step up offensively and defensively."
Behind a four-point service run from Boyle and a three-point run by Collevechio, Marian jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the third game. The District 1 champion Lions (16-5) never got closer than three points the rest of the way as Marian closed out the match, 25-19.
"As well as we played in our last two [state tournament] matches, we're going to have to take it to an even higher level if we want to keep this going," said Fallabel. "The teams remaining are all outstanding. We will need to be at the top of our game, but if we are, we can play with anyone."
Sherkness finished with 16 kills to lead Marian at the net. Boyle also had a strong match with 11 kills while Abby Stankiewitch was a force in the middle with five kills and three blocks. O'Donnell ran the offense to perfection with 36 assists. Defensively, Collevechio had 16 digs, Pilla had 13, Sherkness had 10, Boyle had seven, and Nietz added six.
"We're really excited to be in the state semifinals," said Collevechio. "We just want to keep taking things one point, one game, one match at a time.
"The team is playing very well and we're having a lot of fun. We don't want it to end."
If the Fillies can continue to combine the offensive power and defensive execution that they have during this postseason run, Collevechio's wish might just come true.
Marian will now face Williamson, the District 4 champ, in the Class A semifinals. The match will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Shamokin High School.