After guiding her squad to an unbeaten record through the first seven matches of the season, Council Rock South head coach Carrie Allen said she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t surprised by her team’s quick start.
It only gets tougher from here, however, she added.
“When you start 7-0 and then you have to see everybody again, that means we kind of have a target on our backs from this point on,” said Allen.
“Especially with things like Hudl, nothing we have is secret, teams can watch film on us and see where our weaknesses are, on top of already (playing) us.”
After blazing through three consecutive road wins the second week of the season at Hatboro-Horsham, Council Rock North and Haverford, the first-place Golden Hawks came back home Sept. 19 and swept Suburban One League (SOL) National Conference rival William Tennent.
CR South got off to a slow start in the Tuesday evening pairing.
“We had a lot of big wins last week so, mentally, we might have been taking a little break,” said CR South senior co-captain Edan Kauer. “Our Haverford win was huge.
“But definitely a slow start today.”
The Hawks followed the win over the Panthers with another road triumph over Truman to go to 6-0 in the conference.
“It feels great; we just have to keep the momentum going,” stated Kauer, of her team’s unbeaten start. “We can’t afford to have slow starts like the one we had today, especially going through the second half of the season when we see all the same teams from our league.”
After trailing Tennent throughout most of the first set, South rallied to tie the match at 16-all before going on to a 25-22 triumph.
“We started a little slow but we were able to start minimizing our errors after that first set, keep the ball in play and play consistent, serve to floor,” said Allen.
The winning point was scored by junior Rachael Buchnik, who recorded seven kills and two blocks facing the Panthers. She and senior Dara Botnick (three kills) are taking up the middle blocker position, vacated by Avery Vaughan.
South entered the season without the services of Vaughan, a recent graduate who earned second team All-SOL honors in the middle in 2022 and Lindsey Korn, who earned first team honors at libero.
According to Allen, senior co-captain Cadence Palmer and classmate Cassidy Melnick have switched off between libero and defensive specialist positions thus far this season. Melnick contributed to the win over the Panthers with nine digs and four assists while Palmer added six digs and a pair of aces.
“Both have been doing a great job, defensively, for us,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, Buchnik and senior Dara Botnick, both of whom garnered varsity playing time last season, are rotating in and out of that spot in the middle of the front line.
After sweeping SOL National rivals Bensalem and Neshaminy to start the season, the Hawks received their first tough test when they visited Pennsbury on Sept. 7 and came home with a 3-1 victory.
“We saw in our Pennsbury game, we were all stepping up; our right sides were swinging, our outsides were getting all these kills,” explained Kauer.
“Both of our seniors who played middle last year graduated so there was a question as to who was going to fill that spot.
“I’d say our middles have definitely stepped up, especially with running plays and getting the ball and our setters diversifying.”
For Buchnik, playing middle is a new experience as she had to transition from playing outside for her club team in the offseason.
“Her play has really improved,” stated Kauer. “Just her being able to transition that easily and adapt to these sets, it’s been great.
“We love having her hit middle for us.”
In the second set with Tennent, CR South broke an early 3-3 tie with four straight points and led from that point on in a 25-18 victory. The Hawks dominated the third and final set in completing the sweep, 25-11.
In the third set, South senior co-captain Ashlyn Dinan recorded the winning point on a tapped ball over the net while sophomore Olivia DeSaro recorded a kill just inside the line that put her team up 24-8 in the last set before the Panthers faulted on a serve for the final point in game. DeSaro led the Hawks with eight kills.
“We finally picked up the pace and got our offense into rhythm, especially in that third set,” said Kauer, who recorded seven kills, 10 digs and a pair of aces. “We had a lot of good swings and moved the ball around a lot on offense, diversifying with our middle, right side and outside.”
Dinan did her part, contributing eight digs, a kill and 14 assists. Classmate Rachel Khelmer, who is splitting duties at setter with Dinan, added a dozen assists and five digs. Junior Nala Kauer chipped in with three kills while senior Yana Kotlyarenko came through with four points. Junior Halle Wilson added a pair of aces to the mix.
One of South’s most significant wins of the season thus far was a 3-2 triumph Sept. 14 at Central League rival Haverford.
“They are just an amazing team, overall,” stated Kauer. “They have a huge offense and multiple girls over 6 foot (tall) so it was really fun playing them.”
While the Hawks came out on top in the opening set, the Fords took games two and three, putting the backs of the Golden Hawks against a wall. To its credit, CR South took the final two sets to emerge with the match victory.
Co-captain Kauer gave her impressions on the win at Haverford.
“It was very intimidating going up against girls over 6 foot (tall), just swinging 10-foot lines” she explained. “We all stepped up on defense, especially our DS’s and our liberos.
“And our hitters were amazing in the (match), hitting around those huge blockers. When you have two over 6-foot girls in your face blocking like that, it’s crazy.”
Last season, the Hawks earned a No. 4 seeding in the District One 4A bracket but bowed out early after suffering a 3-1 loss to 13th-seeded Strath Haven.
According to Kauer, she and her senior classmates, including senior Sara Gannon, want to return to districts and go far enough to get the team to states.
CR South earned a berth in the PIAA tournament in 2005 but has not returned to states since.
The second half of the season began for the Hawks Sept. 27 at Bensalem and continues Thursday at Neshaminy.