MINERSVILLE – When Marian and Salem Christian walked into Minersville's Thomas Fitzpatrick gymnasium last night for the District 11 Class A volleyball semifinals, both teams had very different reasons for being there.
For Salem Christian head coach Howard Venrick, last night wasn't about wins and losses, but rather having the chance for his team to experience the District playoffs and getting the opportunity to see what a strong program like Marian looks like.
For Fillies head coach John "Doc" Fallabel, last night was very familiar territory and presented the first step in what he hopes is a long and extended run through the State playoffs.
With a 25-13, 25-10, 25-6 victory over the Eagles (13-9), top-seeded Marian will set out to defend its District championship on Thursday night against Nativity (a 25-18, 25-16, 25-15 semifinal winner over Tri-Valley). The District 11 Class A Championship match is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Minersville High School.
"Tonight was a great match and I thought our girls played well," stated Fallabel. "No matter the level of competition, we came in prepared. We had a solid practice yesterday and the girls fully understand that this is the beginning of the State playoffs. It's one (loss) and done from this point forward, so we can't afford to take any opponent lightly.
"We have a lot of sick girls right now, so everybody played tonight. It was a complete team effort and we're all looking forward to Thursday night."
With Marian's two top hitters (Grace Boyle and Abby Stankiewitch) sitting on the bench to open game one, the fourth-seeded Eagles hung with Marian and trailed by only two points (13-11). However, to put that score in proper perspective, nine of Salem Christian's points came off Fillies miscues and when Boyle was inserted into the lineup, Marian outscored the Eagles 12-2 down the stretch, fueled by a six-point service run by Courtney McCall, which included three aces.
Stankiewitch, who's been out of action for the past 17 days with an ankle injury, started the second game and her presence was immediately felt. The sophomore middle blocker had five kills in staking the Fillies to a 14-4 lead. Boyle added three kills in the game and Maureen Kloap and Abby O'Donnell both had six-point service runs, as the Fillies rolled to a 15-point victory.
"We are in a league that's called the Atlantic Coast Christian Athletic Conference and those teams are not at this level (referring to Marian)," stated Venrick. "We were very successful in our league, but Marian is in a class by itself.
"It's fun to be able to play a team like that though because it shows us what a strong program looks like and what we need to strive to become."
Marian and Salem Christian did play earlier in the regular season, with the Fillies posting a 25-11, 25-8, 25-13 sweep.
The third game was more of the same, as the Fillies received five kills from Boyle, four kills from Sophie Myers and a seven-point service run from Danielle Spillman to take a 25-6 victory. All six Salem Christian points came off Marian errors.
"We did what we needed to do tonight and it's a great feeling to be playing for another District Championship on Thursday night," stated junior Emily Pilla, who celebrated her 17th birthday with the three-game sweep. "The big thing with playing a team like this is to not get stuck playing down to their level. I think we did a nice job of keeping our heads up and playing our game. Everyone contributed tonight and it was a great team effort."
Grace Boyle led Marian (19-2) with nine kills and three digs, while Sophie Myers and Abby Stankiewitch added six and five kills respectively. Setter Abby O'Donnell (29 assists, four kills), Maureen Kloap (four kills, six digs), Emily Pilla (four kills, five digs) and libero Lauren Nietz (seven digs) also provided strong contributions for the Fillies.