CONCORD — When Garnet Valley boards the bus Saturday to head to Cumberland Valley High School to face North Allegheny in the PIAA Class 4A Volleyball Championship, it will be exactly six years to the day since the Jaguars won their only won state titles.
Senior setter Maddie Wood, the Daily Times’ 2021 player of the year, remembers that day vividly despite being only in sixth grade.
“My dad (Greg) was an assistant coach, so I took the bus,” said Wood, who will play beach volleyball at the University of Tampa. “I just remember how excited everyone was. It was such a great run. It’s a bit similar to the run we have now.”
The 2016 squad was an underdog in the Finals against Parkland as the fifth seedling from District 1, rebounding from a 2-1 deficit to win in five sets. This season, the Jaguars (25-1) were underdogs against Unionville in the District 1 Finals and Parkland, the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s #1 ranked Class 4A team, in the states semifinals. You would win those two games.
Now they face a North Allegheny team that has dominated Class 4A since Garnet Valley won its championship. The Tigers (21-1), second by the PVCA, are battling for their sixth straight Class 4A title and have done so in dominating fashion. They are 128-3 over the last six seasons, 384-36 in standard play. The Tigers have only been led in five sets ten times in that span, including once by the Jaguars in the 2017 semifinals. But the Jaguars aren’t nervous.
“I actually spoke to Lizzie Herestofa, who was the sweeper on this team (2016),” Wood told the Daily Times of the 2016 Volleyball Player of the Year. “She said, ‘We didn’t come this far just to get this far,’ so I thought about it every game. We have to push harder. We were the underdogs in a lot of situations, like Garnet Valley was back then. I just think it’s cool how similar it is.”
North Allegheny is led by senior setter Mia Tuman, who signed for Ohio State, the No. 5 team in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25. Tuman has amassed 356 assists, 223 kills, 217 digs, 54 blocks, and 30 aces. Last season she was Pennsylvania Gatorade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year.
Libero Caroline Curran, who goes to Ohio University, is progressing on defense with 412 tackles away. Jaydn Perkins, Carissa Treser, and Ella Deeter speed up a balanced attack with 200, 184, and 182 kills, respectively.
“We constantly proved ourselves at every obstacle we encountered,” said experienced winger Sara Weins. “Parkland was our biggest obstacle and we overcame it, so I think we know now; We have this confidence from the Parkland game that we’re going to go into the state game and if we play well and play our game, we can beat them.
Garnet Valley is third in the PVCA poll and has won 21 games since suffering its only loss, a 3-2 decision against Unionville on Sept. 9. Maddie Wood thought a run like this was possible from the start. Others took a little longer to find their way around.
“The first game against Unionville, I realized it kind of clicked,” said senior libero Madison Snelgrove, who will play volleyball at Rutgers-Camden. “Not only did I think we could do great things, we could achieve them. That was the future for us.”
“We’ve been working for this since our freshman year,” senior outside hitter Kelly St. Germain said. “That was our main goal, making it to the state championship and now that we’re finally here, it just feels like all our hard work has paid off.”
Weins was recently inspired by Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who said after his team clinched a playoff spot that the Phillies needed 13 wins to win a World Series. They came up short, winning 11 and falling in six series games against the Houston Astros, but it gave Weins an idea. Before the district tournament started, she said the team needed eight wins to become state champions.
“It was nothing short of amazing to do what we did,” Weins said. “We said eight away wins every time, and now we have one more to go.”