Whip­pets fight past Rustin in epic duel

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Neil Geoghe­gan ngeoghe­gan@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @NeilMGeoghe­gan on Twit­ter

DOWN­ING­TOWN » There was a point, dur­ing an epic fourth set that fea­tured an as­tound­ing 11 ties and count­less lead changes, that Down­ing­town West head vol­ley­ball coach David Par­rish couldn’t help but think back to his team’s reg­u­lar sea­son bat­tle with West Ch­ester Rustin.

“End­ing it in the fourth set was cer­tainly the plan this time — we did not want to go five with this team,” Par­rish ac­knowl­edged.

Nine days ear­lier, the Whip­pets needed five gru­el­ing sets to fi­nally edge the short­handed Golden Knights. But on Thurs­day, in a sec­ond round District 1 4A play­off bat­tle, West dug deep within to sur­vive the fourth set marathon and put Rustin away, 3-1. The scores were 25-18, 25-20, 21-25, 27-25.

“I com­mend our girls on their grit,” Par­rish said. “We were down a game point at 24-23 and we came back. I’m proud of them. We played very well and we had to. Rustin is a well-coached, tal­ented team.”

Now 16-2 over­all, the fourth-seeded Whip­pets ad­vance to play an­other Ch­esMont foe on Tues­day: No. 5 Avon Grove, which swept Methac­ton, 3-0. The 13thseeded Knights fin­ish the 2016 sea­son with a 14-8 mark.

“I would have liked to get (Down­ing­town West) to a fifth set and see if we could have pulled it out,” said Rustin head coach Harry Bit­berger.

Much like the ear­lier meet­ing, the Whip­pets got off to a fast start in each of the first two sets, dropped the third, and were pre­car­i­ously close to fall­ing in the fourth. Sopho­more Emma Nel­son — who did not play in the ear­lier clash — notched one of her team-high 15 kills put Rustin just one point away from forc­ing a fifth set, but West never blinked.

“At that point, it’s just a mat­ter of who is go­ing to over­come the nerves and make that big first touch and get their team into the sys­tem in order to get a good swing at it,” Par­rish said.

Down the stretch, se­nior So­phie Gelling had a block and two crit­i­cal kills to keep West in it. One kill made it 24-24 to erase one game point, and an­other inched West ahead 26-25, set­ting the stage for sopho­more Hai­ley Lewis to close it out with a kill of her own.

“Ev­ery sin­gle point was a fight,” said Gelling, who paced the Whip­pets with 15 kills. “There is a lot of mu­tual re­spect be­tween th­ese two teams, so ev­ery­body was play­ing as hard as they could on ev­ery point. It was one of the most ex­cit­ing sets to play in.”

Down­ing­town West scored five of the first six points and went on to win the open­ing set, and then took com­mand with an­other early run in set No. 2. The Knights never led, but did pull to a 20-20 tie be­fore the Whip­pets scored the last five points on Lewis’ serve.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had a first round bye in dis­tricts, so we hadn’t played in eight days and we did not have a great week of prac­tice, to be hon­est. But we came out on fire,” Par­rish said.

“We are an ex­citable team,” Bit­berger ex­plained. “It was an emo­tional night for our se­niors. They wanted to do well and they prob­a­bly put more pres­sure on them­selves. There were some fac­tors, but you can’t fall be­hind like that.”

Rustin flipped the script in the third set, thanks to some timely kills from Nel­son and Kaia John­son.

“We set­tled down in the third set and then came out swing­ing in the fourth,” Bit­berger said. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

John­son fin­ished with six blocks, Lau­ren Hayes had 18 digs and Emily Sup­plee added three aces for the Knights. Out­side hit­ter Aly Rear­don chipped in 11 kills for West.

“This shows how much we’ve grown as a team just in the last nine days,” Gelling said. “I feel a per­for­mance like this is an in­di­ca­tion of what we can do the rest of the post­sea­son.”

VINNY TEN­NIS — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE

Down­ing­town West’s So­phie Gelling. left. lifted the Whip­pets when they needed a lift to cap off an epic fourth set Thurs­day night against Rustin.

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