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Quick start carries Lions over Marian

LEESPORT - Mayday! Mayday!

The Marian volleyball team might have felt the need to issue that international distress signal Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA State Class 1A tournament against Sacred Heart Academy.

Because no matter how hard the Fillies worked to bail water, their ship just kept sinking.

Marian’s determination allowed it to temporarily stay afloat, but in the end it couldn’t prevent its extremely successful season from capsizing.

The District 1 champion Lions defeated Marian, 25-10, 25-19, 22-25, 25-17.

It was only the third loss of the season for a Fillies squad that won 18 matches and captured a District 11 championship under first-year head coach Maria Serina.

“Our girls played hard, but we could have played a cleaner game,” Serina said. “I thought that was the difference. They’re a really nice team, and we needed to play a cleaner game to beat them.”

The Fillies and Lions aren’t strangers. A year ago, they met in the PIAA semifinals - a match that Marian pulled out in five sets. But while Marian was virtually wiped out by graduation, Sacred Heart returned nearly every starter from a season ago.

“We are very familiar with them,” said Sacred Heart head coach Samuel Moyerman. “It was a tough loss last year, and our girls have had a possible rematch with Marian circled on their calendar. They’ve been itching for this matchup.”

With their rematch hopes answered, the Bryn Mawr-based club wasted little time taking charge as it jumped out to an 11-6 first set lead and rolled to a 25-10 victory.

Juniors Emily McKenna, who would finish with 14 kills in the match, and Aly Albanese, who would finish with 12, dazzled at the net as the Lions took control from the onset.

Marian got its footing in the second set as the scoring see-sawed back and forth. When the Fillies got an ace from Ashlyn Klitsch, they had a 13-12 edge. Sacred Heart battled back to grab a 19-17 lead, then pulled away down the stretch to take a 2-0 lead.

But the Fillies weren’t going to go down without a fight.

“We definitely still felt confident,” Serina said. “I knew we weren’t out of it.”

Marian’s hopes started to rise in the third set. The Fillies erupted for leads of 7-2, 10-4, 13-6 and were riding the wave of momentum. Two aces from the serves of Maura Kelly had Marian sky high, and the confidence was swelling with a 20-16 lead.

With Elizabeth Snerr at the service line, Marian got a big boost from Rhiannon Brady’s back row kill, and when Megan Paisley slammed home a kill, the Fillies had captured the set.

“There was no doubt in my mind that our girls believed we could come all the way back,” said Serina. “(They) were fighting, and grinding and wanting to push to the next set.”

Moyerman quickly had thoughts of the previous meeting in 2020 when Marian rolled in the first two sets, before the Lions rallied to extend the match to a fifth set.

“Oh, please don’t let it happen,” Moyerman said he was thinking. “It’s a game of runs, and Marian had the momentum after winning the third set.”

But Sacred Heart quickly regrouped in the fourth set, jumping out to leads of 10-3 and 17-7. The Fillies had one big run left as they reeled off 10 of the next 13 points - thanks in large part to Charlotte Vinson and Paisley - allowing them to get within striking distance at 20-17.

Sacred Heart reached back for the final five points, however, ending Marian’s ride for 2021.

“They had a couple of girls that were really strong,” said Marian assistant coach AJ Serina - the husband of head coach Maria. “When you see that, you have to learn, and our goal moving forward is you have to become more athletic and become stronger as a program. We need to start hitting the weight room.”

QUOTABLE … “We played as hard we could, even if we didn’t stop them at the end,” said Marian senior Rhiannon Brady.

GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN … Nine Marian seniors bid adieu. Lauren Reaman, Ashlyn Klitsch, Charlotte Vinson, Kelly Sullivan, Taylor Walsh, Rhiannon Brady, Maura Kelly and Evianna Jaminez all played their final match.

Elizabeth Snerr of Marian passes the ball while teammate Lauren Reaman looks on. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Kelly Sullivan (6) and Abbey Kluck (16) try to block a shot by Sacred Heart's Riley Fisher. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS