Three straight District One titles did not beckon a fourth for the New Hope-Solebury girls volleyball team Tuesday night, Oct. 29 at Harriton High.
While the Lions gave it their all, a fourth consecutive trip to states was not in the cards as Catholic Academies rival Saint Basil unseated the defending Class 2A champs 3-2 in the district final.
“Every girl out there was digging down deep,” said first-year head coach for New Hope, Chris Marchok. “There were a bunch of bodies flying out there on the floor and a lot of emotion.
“They dug deep, we dug deep and at the end of the day, they had a couple more bounces that were in and a couple more balls that went their way than us.”
When the Lions took the first set 25-20, New Hope looked like it was on its way. But Basil bounced back with a 25-23 triumph to even the match at a game apiece.
While the Lions took game three by an identical 25-23 score, the Panthers took game four to overtime and eked out a 29-27 victory. With the teams tied at 11-all in the rubber match, Saint Basil pulled away with the last four points to capture the district crown for themselves.
“The kids went through a ton of emotion tonight and they showed their maturity and they showed their stamina, staying with it all the way to the end,” stated Marchok.
“I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve done.”
New Hope won its fourth straight Bicentennial title and was unbeaten in the league. While the Lions were three-time state quarterfinalists, New Hope returned just three players this season that started in last year’s District One finale. Fortunately for the Lions, they had freshman Mia Chuma on their side this season.
At 6 feet tall, Chuma commands a presence on the left side of the front line.
“She has a lot of athleticism and physical maturity,” said Marchok. “Somebody that tall as a freshman typically doesn’t have the body control that she has.
“The other part of the equation is that she’s an incredibly quick learner.
“In the middle of a set, you can yell out a correction, and she’ll take it and correct it.”
According to the coach, when the Panthers took the fourth game in overtime, it represented a turning point in the match.
“They outlasted us; they just played good defensive ball,” explained Marchok. “Even though the fourth set got to 11-11, they made their stand in the fourth set.
“That turned the momentum.”
Among the players coming back next year is junior Cooper Sorin; she keeps the volley going on the right side.
New Hope has a pair of players in the middle, starting with senior Gretchen Newman, who worked hard to break into the starting lineup.
“She’s a kid who, in her freshman year, couldn’t get the ball over the net,” explained Marchok. “But she stuck with it and stuck with it and stuck with it; she is why you coach kids.
“The growth and the maturity in her – you never would have guessed it three years ago.
“She’s grown into an effective middle blocker. It’s a testament to her hard work and never getting discouraged.
“She overcame a lot of people doubting her and became an incredible force for us.”
Helping to shore up the middle was sophomore Amy Tao, who never played middle before this season. A JV player last year, Tao was an outside hitter before this.
Bouncing back from knee surgery this year was junior Allison Somers. A defensive specialist, Somers showed up for practice every day, despite not being cleared to play until late in the season.
“This was my first year as head coach and she was like an assistant coach for me,” explained Marchok. “A week before the regular season ended, she went in and declared herself ready to play.
“She was such a force for us.
“She was awesome – a real spitfire. She has a lot of heart and we have a lot of heart in that junior class that is coming back next year.”
The Lions wave goodbye to senior Grace Hanly, who led the team in assists this season, as well as classmates Bella Fleischacker and Sarah Deussing.
“She’s a very, very savvy hitter,” said Marchok, of Deussing. “She’s a big swinger, good extension, incredibly smart and a lot of nice touches.”
In the District One finale, Chuma led New Hope in kills, Hanly led the Lions in the assists category and Fleischacker topped the team in digs.