Volleyball gives top-seeded Emmaus a scare
News flash: Don’t tell the Whitehall girls volleyball team that they can’t compete with the top seed in the district tournament.
So don’t tell them that they have a zero chance of winning a set against an Emmaus squad that won 18 games in the regular season. I mean, history will tell you that the Zephyrs didn’t win a set against the Hornets in their two matches this season.
Yes, all is safe in Macungie.
But there they were last Thursday night in the D-11 4A playoffs, looking to knock the Hornets out of the tournament, a prospect that gained incredible momentum after their convincing 25-16 second set victory. That evened the match at 1-1, and when Whitehall began to carve out a lead early in the third set, Emmaus was forced to call a timeout.
And once Amanda Mortimer recorded an ace midway through the match, giving them the a 17-14 lead, it looked as though they would ride the momentum gained from the second set win and take a 2-1 lead.
In that second set, they had the host team on their heels. Their attack was superb at the net as Alyson Peters, Mortimer, Aiyana Powenski, and Caitlin Kier were all hitting winners. But what really stood out was their defense. The Zephs turned that set into a block party. More than kills, a block can deflate a team, and Peters, Powenski, Mortimer, Lexi Crum, and Lindsay Ball all took turns taking the steam out of Emmaus’ offense.
Head coach Eric Budge said that in the second set they did a lot of great things. Foremost on that list, they were able to take out their big outside hitter, Macy Van Den Elzen, limiting her impact on the game.
“We essentially stopped their point production, and then pulled ahead of them at that point,” said Budge.
Ball’s crosscourt kill, followed by a Peters and Mortimer tandem block, helped them get out to an 8-4 advantage. From that point, they never surrendered the lead, and earned the victory when Mortimer closed out the set with an ace.
Another wrinkle they employed was switching their libero. Budge said that Olivia Ballard assumed that role against Emmaus, allowing them to bring another hitter to the front row as Ball slid into that spot.
“It worked out really well for us,” said Budge.
Taylor Levan then came in as a defensive specialist to give them a boost.
With the Zephs leading by three in the third set after the ace, they appeared in good position to ride their momentum down the stretch. But the Hornets reeled off three consecutive points, with Jaya Bhagat scoring on a tip for the equalizer. That prompted a timeout by Budge, but the Hornets didn’t lose focus and scored three more points before Whitehall got back on the board. While the Zephs were able to trim the lead to 19-20, the Hornets never relinquished the lead and won the pivotal third set, 25-21.
The Zephyrs got out to a good start again in the fourth set, and took a 6-4 advantage, thanks to a kill and tip by Peters that helped put them up by two. The game teetered back and forth through the next few points, but the Hornets once again got on a roll, scoring five consecutive points to take the 15-9 lead. That surge seemed to take the wind out of the Zephyrs, and the Hornets streaked to the 25-13 victory, taking the set and the match.
Budge said that it was they best that they played all season. Their offense was clicking, and they were sound defensively as well. They just happened to be facing a really talented opponent who’ll pounce on those unforced errors.
Budge said to counter Emmaus, you need to play consistently strong volleyball. He said the breaks went the Hornets way, but there’s a reason why they’re the top seed. They execute and rarely beat themselves.
He said that from the coaches to the players, they were pleased with how they competed. While it wasn’t the outcome they had hoped, they didn’t leave anything on the floor against Emmaus.
“They left it all out there,” said Budge. “I’m happy with how they played.”
In the opening round of the 4A tourney, the Zephyrs defeated Wyoming Valley West 3-0. It is now the fourth consecutive year that Whitehall has won the opening round game. They finish the year at 9-11, and will now prepare for the offseason as they look ahead to 2019.