Coming into its recent slate of games, the Elizabethtown Area High School boys volleyball team had to come up with some wins in order to stay in the mix for both the Lancaster-Lebanon League and District 3 Playoffs. They had to fight tooth and nail for it, but the Bears succeeded in a big way.
Elizabethtown hosted its annual challenge tournament in Daubert Gym on Saturday, April 13, with seven other teams in attendance. The Bears were perfect through pool play, nabbing three wins each from Mechanicsburg (25-18, 25-15, 27-25), Cedar Crest (25-19, 27-25, 25-17) and Tunkhannock (25-15, 25-14, 25-17). At 9-0, they had the best record of any team.
In the semifinals of the playoffs, the Bears topped Cedar Cliff, advancing to the finals against Central Dauphin East. The Panthers were the top seed in the opposite pool, however, and came to play, ultimately outlasting Elizabethtown 28-26 to win the tournament.
The team got back to regular season action at home on Monday, April 15, against Cocalico in what turned out to be an instant classic. The winner would take sole possession of second place in Section Two, so both teams fought extra hard for points. The Eagles surged ahead late in the first set, getting a 25-20 win. They held a 23-22 lead late in the second as well before the Bears mounted a furious comeback, tying the game at 25-25 and eventually nabbing a 33-31 victory.
Elizabethtown also narrowly took the third set 25-23 following some tight points. Cocalico fought back, winning the fourth 25-21 to send the game to a tiebreaking fifth set, the first of the season for the Bears. They came up big, closing with an 11-3 run to win 15-8 and get the 3-2 victory.
Junior Nate Seeger had a career-best 52 assists in addition to 7 kills and 5 digs. Junior Jacques Mortha led Elizabethtown with 18 kills, also notching 12 digs and 4 blocks. Senior Nick Chapman added 14 kills and 7 digs, while junior Gavin Gilhool and sophomore Rudy Woitas each had 9 kills and 3 blocks. Junior Jake Sevcik also finished with a season-best 33 digs.
Senior Avery Stark carried Cocalico, leading all players with 21 kills. He also had 8 digs and 5 blocks. Fellow senior Patrick Koller finished with 37 assists as well.
The Bears got back to it the following night, Tuesday, April 16, on the road at Lancaster Mennonite. Elizabethtown was in the driver’s seat early, going up by as much as 12-6 in the first set. The Blazers didn’t fade away, however, chipping at the Bears’ lead and finally going on a 5-0 run to tie the game at 22-22. They then staved on two game-points and scored three straight to win 27-25 and steal the set.
Lancaster Mennonite grabbed the lead early in the second. Elizabethtown tried to stay in it but struggled to adjust to a new rotation; junior Casey Lyons suffered a knee injury the previous night, meaning that freshmen Bryan Murry and Billy O’Connell, who had both only seen spot time, had to try and fill in. The Blazers took advantage, pulling away late for a 25-18 victory.
Down 2-0, Elizabethtown had to run the gauntlet to get the win. The Bears decided to make some adjustments; Sevcik, who normally lines up at libero, moved to outside hitter, with O’Connell replacing him in the white jersey. It worked initially in the third; Elizabethtown led by as much as 15-8. Again, Lancaster Mennonite hung around, eventually tying the game at 20-20. However, the Bears put their foot down, scoring five of the last six points to win 25-21, capped by a stellar kill from Chapman.
They dominated in the fourth set as well, cruising to a 25-13 win to force the tiebreaking fifth. The action was extremely tight down the stretch, with both teams trading points. The Blazers had two game-point opportunities, grabbing 14-13 and 15-14 leads at different times.
But the Bears stepped up when it counted most; Mortha nailed a kill to tie it at 14-14, subsequently serving two balls that Lancaster Mennonite hit out of bounds. Thus, Elizabethtown pulled out a 17-15 win for the come-from-behind 3-2 victory.
“We had an injury with Casey out,” head coach Lamar Fahnestock said. “Everyone’s trying to do something different. We had JV players starting out there. We had them for a bit, and then we stopped talking to each other. The communication went away, and they got some momentum. We switched some things up with a completely different lineup, and everything came together. That’s heart and a willingness to never quit.”
Mortha led all players with 20 kills, also getting 7 digs. Seeger tied for the game-high in assists with 47 in addition to 13 digs. Chapman had 13 kills and 15 digs, while O’Connell chipped in with 14 digs as well.
“Coming into this week, I told them this was make-or-break,” Fahnestock said. “We get a couple of losses, and you might be out of the playoffs just like that. This keeps us in competition. Our goal is still to win the section, and as long as we don’t lose, we have a shot. We have Manheim Central coming up, and we want them again.”
Senior Clint Wilson and freshman Elijah Lazor each had 13 kills to lead Lancaster Mennonite. The former finished with 17 digs as well. Senior Ben Lefever matched Seeger with 47 assists.
Now 7-3 on the season, Elizabethtown is through the first part of section play. Currently on a five-game winning streak, the Bears will begin the second half with a home game vs. Ephrata on Thursday, April 18. If they play as well as they did during these two games, they’ll most certainly stay in the playoff hunt.
“It’s confidence,” Fahnestock said. “Some of these guys haven’t played a ton of volleyball even though they’re juniors. It’s great for the future. Just can’t say how proud I am of them.”