Ephrata vs. Elizabethtown - District 3 4A girls volleyball quarterfinal

Elizabethtown's Sydney Stewart (22) reacts after coming from behind and winning the second set against Ephrata in a District 3 4A girls volleyball quarterfinal game at Elizabethtown Area High School Tuesday Nov. 2, 2021.

Section Two of the Lancaster-Lebanon League had been their battleground all season long.

But when Ephrata and Elizabethtown met in the District Three Class 4A girls volleyball quarterfinals Tuesday evening in Elizabethtown, so much more was riding on the outcome.

This time, the winning program would earn a substantial reward — a first-ever trip to the PIAA tournament.

Tuesday’s match offered nail-biting intensity despite a series of blowout games, with Elizabethtown topping Ephrata 25-16, 25-23, 11-25, 25-17 to advance to the district semifinals and lock up a state tournament bid.

“During the open gyms over the summer, I was like, ‘this is talent. We can do something amazing this year’,” Elizabethtown senior Sydney Stewart said. “We overcame so many battles and I’m so proud of everyone. Coach Eberly has done an amazing job coaching us, stepping in.”

Debutantes of the PIAA tournament set to begin Nov. 9, the Bears (19-1) will first reprise their friendly feud with L-L League champion Hempfield (17-0) in the District Three semifinals Thursday at 7 p.m. in Landisville.

Hempfield, the two-time defending district champion, defeated Hershey 3-0 on Tuesday. Also in the Class 4A bracket, Conestoga Valley (11-5) lost 3-0 to top-seeded Cumberland Valley.

The outcome of the match between Ephrata and Elizabethtown hinged around the second set. The Mountaineers (18-4) held a 20-15 lead, but the Bears went up 22-21 on back-to-back kills by Stewart (12 kills, 10 digs, 6 aces).

Sophomore Paige O’Connell (nine digs, three aces) stepped up in the set with a pair of aces and two pivotal back line digs, passing to sophomore setter Hailey Oller (12 assists), who volleyed each time to Stewart on the outside.

An ace by Angela Costa-Ouimet (16 assists) between two Liz Kerin kills closed the set for Elizabethtown, which was all the more important when Ephrata cruised in the third set to get back in the match.

“I told them that (third) set didn’t need to define us. We’re up 2-1, the pressure is still on (Ephrata),” Bears’ coach Karen Eberly said. “Let’s take this set right here and finish it.”

Ephrata led the fourth set 2-1 before Stewart embarked on an 8-0 service run that included four aces and a pair of duo blocks by Kerin and Kallee Locker (12 kills).

“Nobody wants to drop a set especially when you think you can do it in three,” Stewart said. “Having my teammates hype me up after those aces, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Trailing 20-7, Ephrata made one last push, closing on a 10-5 run. Grace Farlow recorded an ace and Taylor Haupt (13 kills) scored back-to-back points, before Locker’s cross-court kill closed the set and the match for Elizabethtown.

“We talked about it between sets that the fourth set, they (the Bears) were going to start fast,” Ephrata head coach Mike Elliott said. “When Sydney got back there serving, we couldn’t handle it.”

Ephrata will miss the contributions of senior setters Farlow (four aces) and Madison Saylor (17 assists, 10 digs), who contributed to 38 wins since starting together as sophomores.

Class 4A semifinals Cumberland Valley def. Conestoga Valley 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-11): The top-seeded Eagles turned back a rally attempt by the No. 8 seed Buckskins in the third set to move on to their fifth straight District 3 semifinal appearance. A 16-point service run by Jordan Thompson led Cumberland Valley back from an 8-1 deficit in game three.

Hempfield 3, Hershey 1: The No. 2 seed Black Knights advanced to meet Elizabethtown in the semifinals with a four-set, 25-16, 25-23, 11-25, 25-17 quarterfinal round victory over the seventh-seeded Hershey Trojans in the Black Knights gym.

Class 3A volley

Spring Grove 3, Manheim Central 0: The top-seeded Rockets rolled over the ninth-seeded Barons 25-18, 25-14, 25-11 in a Class 3A quarterfinal round game at Spring Grove to advance to a semifinal round meeting with Twin Valley. The Rockets improved to 20-0 with the victory.

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