New Hope-Solebury girls volleyball always seems to be in the postseason, capturing District One Class 2A crowns between 2016 and 2018 and again last year.
The bar has been raised this season however, according to NH-S senior middle blocker Lilly Kraemer.
“We want to make it to state finals as a team,” announced Kraemer.
“We will push hard. We will push ourselves, push each other, in order to get there.
“We want to defend that district title but we want to go further than we did last year.”
After wins over Class 4A rivals Abington and Hatboro-Horsham and more recently, Upper Dublin and Wissahickon, the Lions are much improved this year and they’re doing it with defense.
“We’ve seen these top teams play and it all starts with defense,” said New Hope head coach Chris Marchok.
“If we don’t get that ball up to our setter, she has no way to put a good ball up for our hitter.
“The aggressiveness that you see at the end (of the volley) only happens because our setter got a ball she could work with.”
The setter the coach is referring to in this case is Anna Leasure. A junior in her second season in the starting lineup, Leasure helped spark the team’s recent win over Upper Dublin with 22 assists, nine kills and a pair of service aces.
And the Lions raised more than a few eyebrows around the league with a mid-September win over Abington. After splitting the first two sets, New Hope took the last two games to dispose of the Ghosts, 3-1, on the Lions’ home court.
“That team in Abington, they are tough, they are aggressive, they’re big hitters, they play good defense,” stated Marchok.
“For us to be able to beat them was a huge boost of confidence for our kids because Abington brings their ‘A’ game every match and they have quality athletes.”
Senior Mia Chuma led the way with 23 kills facing the Ghosts, while Kraemer chipped in with 13, Lauren Savitsky added four and Chloe McMillen and Sabrina Fitzsimmons each had three.
“That was the best I’ve seen this team play in years,” added Kraemer, “the way that we connected and communicated and the energy that every single player brought.”
The Lions take the court this year without the services of four graduates including second team All-Suburban One League (SOL) outside hitter Amy Tao.
“Amy is a hard person to replace,” stated Chuma. “Each leader that we’ve had on this squad since my freshman year has had their own unique place and I think we’ve picked up where they left off.
“All of the seniors contribute to that. Me, Lilly and Chloe (McMillen) contribute to that and have taken up that (void).”
“We’re incredibly thrilled with the upper class leadership that we have,” added Marchok. “They take their place here and figure out how they can help the others the best they possibly can.
“You don’t see this group get down, you see them pick each other up.”
New Hope tipped off the season with early wins over Neshaminy, Wissahickon and Cheltenham, the last two of which are SOL American Conference foes.
“It started us off with some momentum, gave us confidence,” explained Chuma. “Also, we learn from every game we play, win or lose.
“We look at what we did well and amplify that and what we didn’t do well and fix it.”
Anchoring the defense this season is libero Emma Viehweger, a sophomore who played a portion of last season with a cast on her arm.
“Em-Vie is a wonderful kid. We asked her to take that libero spot a year and a half ago and she took it with gusto.
“She busts her butt; nobody works harder. What you don’t hear in the crowd is that she’s talking all the time, she’s helping direct our hitters.
“It’s great having her out there.”
Players shoring up the defense include Kraemer, junior Aubrey Turner and Chuma.
“Lilly and Mia, they’re our two big outside hitters but they are also wonderful defenders,” stated Marchok. “But Aubrey Turner, don’t forget her in that conversation. She’s a heckuva defender back there.”
In addition to Kraemer and Chuma, players stepping up on the front line include sophomore Sabrina Fitzsimmons and junior Lauren Savitsky.
“Lauren Savitsky is a kid who brings incredible positive energy to every practice, every match,” said Marchok. “Her volleyball IQ is off the charts.
“If you look at the tape, you’ll see there’s times when she hits the ball over to the tee, pushes the ball deep. There’s times when she pushes through a block because she saw it wide open.
“Lauren is not tall like Mia but man, is she bright. And, she’s really dangerous.”
After taking down Abington, the Lions stumbled in a pair of road losses to 4A rivals Council Rock South and Plymouth-Whitemarsh, both of which are leading their respective conferences in the SOL.
New Hope rebounded however with a shutout win over SOL American League foe Upper Dublin Sept. 28 at home to improve its record to 8-3 overall, 5-1 in the SOL.
“We had a little bit of a dip in energy last week,” explained Kraemer. “Everyone was tired and we had a couple players out sick.
“This (Upper Dublin match) was the first home game in a week and a half so it felt good to get back at it, take the win and (we’re) feeling good.”
While the Lions needed overtime in the first set, they still got past the Flying Cardinals, 26-24. New Hope dominated the second match, leading 20-4 at one point after an ace by Kraemer. A pair of late game kills by Chuma and another by Savitsky helped secure a 25-12 New Hope victory.
In set three, the Lions led 14-9 before a mid-game surge by Upper Dublin allowed the opponent to deadlock the score at 14-all.
That was before Chuma got into a groove, hitting four consecutive aces to put her team on top, 21-14, on the way to a 25-16 triumph.
“I can’t really recall what I did because you’re into that game mindset,” explained Chuma. “I just knew I was going to try to keep hitting that spot over and over again.
“If it keeps working – keeps getting the ace – I’ll just keep doing it.”
Contributing to the win over Upper Dublin were Savitsky with five kills, Fitzsimmons with four and Olivia Madara, a freshman playing in place of McMillen, who came through with three.
New Hope continued with a 3-1 victory over Wissahickon Sept. 30 on its home court. The Lions triumphed despite missing three starters by the third set. Chuma led with 16 kills and Kraemer came through with 12. Savitsky chipped in with four and Turner added two.
Freshmen stepping up in place of the starters vs. the Trojans included May Leasure (nine digs, three assists, ace), Samantha Metzger (four digs, ace) and Madara (kill, two digs).
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