READING — By the time Garden Spot and Pope John Paul II stepped back onto the court Saturday afternoon, the gym at Exeter High School was shaking. The fans roared and stomped their feet in the bleachers in anticipation of the fifth and deciding set in the PIAA Class 3A volleyball quarterfinals.
The Garden Spot players could feel the energy, junior Logan Martin admitted, and used it as fuel to jump out to an early lead before one last slam from Martin clinched the 3-2 (27-25, 18-25, 25-20, 15-25, 15-8) victory.
The Spartans were, however, the only Lancaster County squad to emerge from the Exeter gym with a state win Saturday. Lititz Christian saw its season come to an end in a 3-0 sweep (25-16, 25-11, 25-7) at the hands of Nativity in Class 1A earlier in the day. While the Eagles finished with a 20-2 record, Nativity moves on to face Berlin Brothersvalley on Tuesday.
Garden Spot — which reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2008 — will play District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, a 3-0 winner over Villa Maria.
“I kind of knew this morning when I woke up that we would be here today, we'd be going to the semifinals,” Martin said. “It's just all of the things that we worked so hard for in the season have finally come together and we did it, we accomplished what we needed to do and we're going to keep going. We’re not going to end our season today.”
Garden Spot (20-3) showed that confidence early, going on an 8-0 run in the first set. But Pope John Paul II (22-2) kept things close, tying the score first at 23-23 and then 24-24 before settling for a win in the second set.
The Spartans used another big run and a timely block from Hallie Butler en route to a third-set victory, but Pope John Paul powered through the fourth set to tie the score. Garden Spot kept its composure, however, remaining focused on the next point.
“I told them we have to have a short memory, just putting that all in the past and play one game to 15,” Spot coach Lauren DiPiano said. “Our first goal was to get to five first and we did that with some big momentum plays.”
The Spartans scored the first three points of the set before taking a 5-1 lead, and never relinquished control.
“We don't always have that one go-to player, but if we're all on, we're a tough team to play,” DiPiano said. “They worked their butts off for it and they earned their spot here, so I think they're starting to believe in themselves.”
Lititz Christian faced a different kind of struggle in Saturday’s opening game, unable to find its rhythm and seeing its playoff run halted by Nativity (23-1) for the second straight year.
“I hoped we would have given them more of a challenge, but we got a little overwhelmed and got out of our offense,” Lititz Christian coach Denise Kennedy said. “If we had run our offense, I think we could have stacked up against them a little better.”
While the second loss of the season stings, Kennedy and the Eagles are focused more on what they were able to accomplish — the program’s second straight District Three title.
“I told the girls there’s no reason to hang their heads — it was a great season,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think any team in the CCAC has ever won back-to-back district championships. Our goal was to go farther in the state, but we knew it was going to be tough.”