It appeared that the Elizabethtown Area High School girls volleyball team had Dallastown’s number. The Lady Bears had previously beat the Wildcats in the first round of the Class 4A District 3 playoffs in both 2016 and 2017, getting the chance to do so again this season. Unfortunately for them, things went a bit differently this time around.
Dallastown, the No. 7 seed in this year’s postseason, came away with a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Elizabethtown in a highly competitive game at Exeter on Saturday, Oct. 27. Exeter, the No. 2 seed, beat No. 15 Cedar Crest afterward, later beating Dallastown 3-0 on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The Lady Bears finish the season with a 12-6 record.
“Dallastown’s a good team, and we’re pretty evenly matched,” Elizabethtown head coach Jenna Griest said. “That’s why it was back and forth so much. We’re running a completely different offensive system than we did the last two (years). We (also) have a whole new set of hitters than we had in the past. The last two years, we went five sets against them and pulled it out, but this year, they, unfortunately, got the upper hand on us.”
The two teams traded the lead several times in the first set. While Elizabethtown had a 9-7 lead early on, Dallastown took a 16-13 advantage shortly afterward. The Lady Bears then went on a 5-0 run to briefly go up 18-17, but the Wildcats recovered to tie the game at 20-20 and eventually win 25-22. In the second set, Elizabethtown had a 9-0 run early on to put the score at 14-5. Dallastown did go on separate runs of 4-0, 6-0 and 5-0 to narrow the gap, but the Lady Bears held on to win 25-19 and even the game at 1-1.
“We served really well and got them out of system on almost every play,” Griest said of the second set. “We didn’t allow their hitters to make any attacks on us, so they had to hit a lot of balls from the back row. We kind of kept their offense at bay and played outstanding defense as well.”
The third set was a wild one and was arguably the turning point of the match. The Wildcats had an early 12-7 lead after a 5-0 run, but Elizabethtown worked its way back to go up 15-14 at the midway point. From there, the two sides traded points, eventually getting into a 24-24 deadlock late in the set that ended up increasing to a 29-29 tie. Finally, Dallastown scored two consecutive points to win 31-29. While the Lady Bears did go up 6-4 early in the fourth set, the Wildcats went ahead on a 5-0 run and never looked back, winning 25-17 to get the overall victory.
“It was tough not to take care of business and pull out that third set,” Griest said. “It allowed Dallastown to get that momentum. Their hitters started to get into rhythm in the fourth set, and at that point, we couldn’t quite stop them.
Freshman Kallee Locker led the Lady Bears in kills with 8. Junior Hayden Calaman added 13 assists, while senior Elizabeth Vuxta and junior Ashley Nyesmith each had 10 digs. Freshman Sydney Stewart chipped in with 5 service aces.
With the 2018 season over, Elizabethtown will have to deal with the loss of its graduating seniors; each of the five was a key fixtures in the rotation with her own unique role. Vuxta and Katie Kimbark did well as defensive specialists and also were consistent servers, while Rebecca Epps was an underrated outside hitter.
Then there are the two team captains. Grace Murray did extremely well in the middle, and her absence due to a knee injury down the stretch was felt, mostly in terms of leadership. Julia Rathsam was a do-it-all player for the Lady Bears, making an impact as both a setter and a hitter. She ended up near the top of every statistical category by the end of the year.
“We’re losing a lot of leadership,” Griest said. “Our seniors were an outstanding class right from the get-go with open gyms and senior workouts over the summer. Obviously, we lose a three-year starting varsity setter (in Julia), defensive players and Grace in the middle. We have a lot of holes to fill next year, but we got a lot of talent coming back for the underclassmen with the freshman hitters and Hayden at setter, so we got a good group that will return next season.”
Thankfully, there’s a talented young core for Elizabethtown to build on. Calaman was the team leader in assists and could be leaned on heavily in 2019. Nyesmith also did the same at libero, leading the Lady Bears in digs. Fellow junior McKenna Dare missed much of the season with injuries, but she flashed as an outside hitter when she was able to play.
The real potential is with this year’s sophomores and freshmen. Stewart and sophomore Kristin Geesey wound up as the primary starters at the outside hitter positions in the second half of the season, turning in consistently strong play. Stewart finished as the team leader in both kills and aces. Locker was called upon to fill in for Murray late at middle hitter and held her own as well.
“We started a freshman and a sophomore at outside hitter all season,” Griest said. “They really stepped up, and when we lost Grace, we had another freshman step into her spot, so it gives us a lot of excitement heading into next season.”
There will be a lot of pressure on Elizabethtown to stay consistent next season. The Lady Bears have qualified for the district playoffs in each of the last six years. However, Griest hit the ground running in her first season as head coach, and with much of the roster staying busy with club volleyball in the offseason, the team looks to poised to at least stay competitive in 2019
“There are a bunch of clubs in the area that they go to,” she said. “We’ll try to get out and watch them play a little bit, (especially) when my team’s not playing. They’re all active during the offseason, and at the end of the school year and beginning of summer, we’ll start back up with open gyms.”