Lower Merion >> Coming into Thursday’s PIAA District 1 4A girls volleyball championship final, top seed Unionville had a record of 21-0, with 20 of those wins coming by a 3-0 score.
In an all-around display of excellence, the Longhorns swept No. 2 seed Council Rock South, 3-0, in Thursday’s district final at Harriton High School, posting wins of 25-14, 25-19 and 25-11.
A few minutes after the Longhorns stormed the court in celebration following the final point of the third set, they reflected on their newly-won district crown, their first since 2020.
Unionville senior tri-captain Ava Brenner, who posted 12 kills Thursday said, “It was an unreal feeling that we got to this point, we’ve worked so hard all season for this moment specifically.”
Unionville senior setter Olivia Harper, who dished out 32 assists, said, “When the final point went down, I was super proud of every person on our team; we worked our butts off to get to where we are, and it feels great to finally get the district title.”
Unionville senior outside hitter and tri-captain Brianna Miller, who recorded eight kills Thursday, said, “I had no doubt that we could do it, we’ve been playing aggressively from the start. Everybody on our team did their part, everybody focused on what they could do to better the ball. We put balls away, we put good passes up, everybody played a part.”
Unionville senior defensive specialist Ava Van Deusen said, “When we got the final point (in the third set), I didn’t know whether to cry (from happiness) or jump up and down. It’s my last district final before graduating.”
Thursday’s win was particularly sweet for the Longhorns, as last year Unionville (as the top seed) lost to No. 3 seed Garnet Valley, 3-2, in the District 1 4A finals.
Harper said, “Our passing was lights out tonight, so was our serve/receive. We knew (Council Rock’s) plays, we watched film, we really prepared for this game mentally and physically, and it really showed up.”
Earlier this season, Unionville had faced Council Rock South, winning 3-0 Sept. 30. The only losses the Golden Hawks (19-3) endured during the regular season were to Unionville and Plymouth Whitemarsh.
“Since we had played them before, we knew their strengths, we knew where to put the ball,” said Brenner.
Brenner and Harper also mentioned the Longhorns’ regular pre-game ritual that they have followed every game this season.
A smiling Harper said, “We choose a song (to play) before every match, it’s a different song every time. Tonight it was ‘When I Was Your Man,’ by Bruno Mars.”
Brenner smiled and said, “We had our little pre-game ritual out in the hall, we listened to ‘When I Was Your Man,’ by Bruno Mars together and tried to find that (winning) mindset and push it all the way to the end.”
Unionville head coach Steph Smith said, “Before the game, I just told our team to be confident and just play their game. We have a lot of seniors, and this was their last opportunity to play in Districts, and they made the most of it.”
In the first set, Council Rock South scored the first three points, but that didn’t damper the spirit of the Longhorns, who went off on a 9-2 run to take the lead for good and gradually build on it for a 25-14 win.
Unionville has been noted by other coaches for its comeback capacity in a single set. Earlier this season, Bishop Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman said, “I saw Unionville come back from a 10-point deficit against Plymouth-Whitemarsh to win. They get one or two points, get that momentum going, and it’s really hard to stop. Steph (Smith) keeps her girls loose and keeps the energy on her team running very well, she does a great job with that.”
In the second set, Council Rock South stayed neck-and-neck with the Longhorns for a while, battling to an 11-11 tie. But Unionville used some fine play up front, including Brenner, sophomore Leah Wiswall (10 kills), Miller, Vivian Geiger and freshman Maeve Stokes, and some tough defense to go on a 9-0 run (with Harper serving) to move ahead for good.
Smith said, “They did a great job up front, but we can’t really run our offense without our defense, and we had all three of the Van Deusens (Ava, Stalena and Holland) all playing in the back row and Brianna Miller back there as well. If we didn’t have that, Olivia Harper wouldn’t have had the opportunity to put up all the beautiful sets that she does.”
Ava Van Deusen said, “I think the key tonight was our big swings, we were able to put the ball away very well, and Stalena and Holland in the back row really did a great job. And that serving run by Olivia Harper really pushed us. We have a good serving team, and we had good energy tonight.”
Council Rock South head coach Carrie Allen said, “Unionville is a well-rounded team; they’ve got good setters, hitters, defense, blockers.”
In the final set, Unionville closed on a 13-4 run for the 25-11 victory.
Smith said, “I’m so proud of our team. It’s been an amazing season and they’ve been not only super-competitive but they’ve made it so much fun. They get along so well and have such a high level of energy that it makes coaching them easy and fun.”