Unionville, Downingtown East top Ches Mont in volleyball

With league race over, local teams look to district tourneys

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

volleyballPrior to the start of the 2014 Ches-Mont League season, Unionville was the hands-down favorite to take first place in the American Division. And, it appeared as if there would be four main title contenders in the National Division — Downingtown East, Downingtown West, Bishop Shanahan and West Chester Henderson.

In the Ches-Mont League American Division, Unionville has clinched the title with an 11-2 record while Great Valley is in second place at 6-4. The Indians close out their season with a match against Avon Grove from the National Division.

All of these schools have virtually locked up berths for the District One Class AAA playoffs which begin on October 21. How they are seeded has yet to be determined.

The seeding for the District One tournament will be determined by the district’s power rating system. Here is a step by step description of the ranking process.

Only best of 5 matches are to be included; abbreviated matches, such as those played in tournaments, are to be excluded. Only best of five matches with PIAA schools are to be included — matches with non-PIAA schools are to be excluded. District one teams that play matches with PIAA teams that are outside of District One, are responsible for obtaining end of season win/loss records of those opponents to have them included in the ranking calculation.  The ranking calculation weighs two factors; a team’s season win/loss record, and the pre-district playoff win/loss records of that team’s PIAA opponents (as defined in steps 1-3).

An index will be calculated using 55 per cent of a team’s own win/loss record (per cent matches won/total matches played), added to 45 per cent of the combined win/loss records of its opponents.  This formula is designed to reward teams that play competitive schedules. Each District One team will be ranked for district playoffs using the 55/45 index, with the team with the highest total index ranked first, the team with the second highest index ranked second, and so on until all available seeds are determined.

Currently, five Ches-Mont teams are in the top 10. The top teams are Pennridge (0.7638), Upper Merion (0.7248), Garnet Valley (0.7203), Bishop Shanahan (0.7031), Downingtown East (0.7011), Strath Haven (0.6894), West Chester Henderson (0.6871), Downingtown West (0.6563) Central Bucks South (0.6364), and Unionville (0.6321).

Great Valley is ranked 20th at 0.6065. Avon Grove is 23rd at 0.5359. Spring-Ford is 28th at 0.4740. West Chester Rustin is 31st at 0.4806 and Sun Valley is listed 37th at 0.4271. The district tournament will include 28 Class AAA teams. In Class AA, four teams will make the playoff and Octorara is ranked seventh at 0.3024.

Unionville’s solid squad is paced by a trio of seniors — 6-1 middle hitter Sydney Salle, who leads the team in kills; setter Molly McCann, who leads the team in assists; and outside hitter Becca Hillhouse, who leads the team in aces.

Hillhouse started the season at libero and played the position until regular libero Sarah Muscato came back from a shoulder injury at the end of September. Other key players for the 2014 UHS squad are sophomore outside hitter Ali Lowe and junior middle blocker Samantha Pancoast.

“We have some height this year,” said Unionville coach Rob Conti-D’Antonio. “We’re pretty tall but not as tall as Avon Grove, Strath Haven and Marple Newtown.

“We have a lot of good senior starters and our sub seniors are good off the bench. This group has been together for a couple years. They’ve been through some tough times in the past and they’re having a great season this year.”

The other teams in the American Division are all sub-.500 in league play — Rustin (4-6), Oxford (2-8), Kennett (2-9), Sun Valley (1-8) and Octorara (0-9).

Kennett is fielding a really young team this season with just two senior starters — outside hitter/defensive specialists Alex Gleason and Dorothy Lovell.

The Blue Demons’ other starters are all juniors — setter Ariana Sevchuk, right side Hannah Sirusis, middle Delaney Chafin, libero Payton Arcieri and middle Aubrey Robinson.

“Defense has been our strength,” said Kennett coach Rob Smith. “Alex Gleason is a really strong defensive player.

“The team is coming along. They’ve really improved since last year. And, we have five girls who are also playing club volleyball.

A similar situation of a youth-dominated squad exists for his wife Stephanie Smith, who is the head coach at Coatesville. One of the lower tier teams in the National Division.

Only two of the team’s eight regular players are seniors — outside hitter Jackie Walsh and libero Jordan Ficca. The nucleus of the team is formed by a trio of sophomores and a trio of juniors.

The juniors are outside hitter Meredith Dailey, middle Anna Pepe and right side Piper Sweeney while the 10th-graders are setter Ashlynne Array, middle Ani Jason and defensive specialist Teresa Johnson

“We’re building,” said Smith, who played scholastic ball at Unionville (when she was still Stephanie Dunne). “It is a very young team with only two seniors.

“This is my first year so we’re working on getting established. We have a lot of tenth graders on varsity. And, we have eight freshmen on the team including three who play club.”

Downingtown East, which had a number of top players back from last year’s undefeated (14-0) National Division championship team, looked poised to successfully defend its tile — but not without strong challenges from West Chester Henderson, Bishop Shanahan and Downingtown East.

As the regular-season competition reached its final stage, that’s the way it has played out.

Early in the season, there were expectations that the division championship would not be decided until the penultimate round of division competition on October 15 — the day that Downingtown East hosts Downingtown West.

It almost happened that way.

With one round remaining, both Downingtown West and Bishop Shanahan are 11-2 while Henderson is 10-3. But, the best any of the three teams not named Downingtown East can hope for is a tie for second place in the final standings.

With its win in the next-to-the-last round over Octorara, East improved to 13-0 and clinched the division crown. Now, the Cougars face one final obstacle to finishing undefeated in the league for the second year in a row — the rivalry match against West on October 15.

All four of the pre-season contenders will qualify for the District One Class AAA tournament. All four are hoping to have all their players healthy and ready-to-go when districts begin on October 21.

This season, both East and Shanahan have had trouble keeping players healthy and game-ready.

At Downingtown East, two seniors provide the foundation upon which the team has been built — setter Rachael Graham and outside hitter Lauren Mueller.

Last year as a junior, Graham was named to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All State Team as well as the PVCA’s All District 1 Class AAA First Team and the Ches-Mont League All-League National Division First Team.

Mueller is a powerful outside hitter who was selected for the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All State Team as well as the PVCA’s All District 1 Class AAA First Team and the Ches-Mont League All-League National Division First Team last season.

Even though it’s a situation that hasn’t had a major negative effect on the Cougars, only one of their aces has available for full-time service on the court.

At the start of the season, Mueller was shagging balls with her back to the net and a girl on the other side of the net rocketed a ball that slammed into the back of her head.

The concussion had a major effect on Mueller — and not in a good way. It has also affected her volleyball. Additionally, Mueller, who is a top academic student at East, was knocked off course with her work in the classroom.

“It definitely has affected my schoolwork — especially the memorization aspect,” said Mueller. “I’ve been having issues with my memory and have had problems with headaches and dizziness. Fortunately, the school has been giving me extra time on my tests.

“It’s been frustrating. I’m getting better but it doesn’t feel like it. I have light issues and have to wear sunglasses — even when I’m inside. When I’m wearing the sunglasses indoors, some people think it’s a fashion state but it isn’t. It’s a necessity.

“With spells of blurred vision and dizziness, the concussion has affected my playing. People say that it doesn’t look like it’s affected me but I know it has. At times, I get dizzy on the court and have to take myself out of the game. That is something I hate to do — especially because our team is doing so well.”

Even with one of their best players competing with reduced efficiency, the Cougars are still motoring along at a fast pace.

“Lauren and Rachel are doing a great job of leading the team,” said East coach Peggy Hopton, who last season guided her team to its first-ever Ches-Mont League title, a runner-up finish  in the District One Class AAA playoffs and a hard-fought loss in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA tournament. “We’re a tight group because of our team leaders.”

Shanahan, meanwhile, has been hit hard by injury this season.

Bishop Shanahan’s veteran coach Greg Ashman, who logged his 200th career win back in September when the Eagles swept Kennett 3-0, is rightfully concerned about his current line-up — about who will and who won’t be available for duty.

“Haley Kleespies, our senior setter, is out for the year with a broken foot and her sister Chloee Kleespies, a sophomore outside hitter, has been unable to play because of a shoulder injury,” said Ashman. “Altogether, we have four starters with injuries.”

Last year, Haley Kleespies was named to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All State Team as well as the PVCA’s All District 1 Class AAA First Team and the Ches-Mont League All-League National Division First Team.

“Rita Shultz, a senior outside hitter, has been missing games because of a concussion,” said Ashman. “Libero/defensive specialist Gina Lewis, who started last year, had shoulder surgery in July and is still unable to play.”

The Eagles’ latest lineup includes freshman setter/outside hitter Renee Shultz (Rita’s sister), senior middle Katie Quinlan, junior libero Kathryn Oakes, senior middle/opposite Katy Lemheney, junior setter Emily Elder and sophomore middle blocker Paige Dudkiewicz.

At the present time, Shanahan is a good team — but a team in survival mode.

“Right now, we’re just trying to hold it together,” said Ashman. “With the lack of experience comes lack of continuity. Only one or two of our current starters have any varsity experience.

“When things are clicking, we can play with the best of them. At the Parkland Invitational, we split with Parkland, which is ranked Number One in the state, and then lost to them in the final. Earlier this season at the Garden Spot tournament, we split with Exeter, which is ranked Number One in the state at that time.

“Hopefully, when we get everyone healthy, we can play like a Shanahan team is supposed to play.”

Downingtown West has only lost twice in league competition — to American Division leaders Unionville and to National Division foe West Chester Henderson.

The Whippets’ key players are senior outside hitters Sarah Schneider and Annie Hayes, junior setter Emily Ahern, senior middle Chloe McCarty, sophomore libero Gina Schetroma, sophomore middle Sophie Gelling and freshman right side Kenzie Pincura.

“We’re a pretty good attacking team and a better-than-average defensive team,” said West coach Dave Parrish, whose team has split its four non-league matches. “We’re also a pretty good serving team. And, our ball control is good.

“We got off to a 10-1 start and that’s our best ever. We played really well against Bishop Shanahan but we haven’t played up to that level since then. We got out of system when we played Unionville. They’re tall and they have good outside hitters.”

West Chester Henderson has done a good job of staying with its Downingtown rivals. The Warriors’ top player is senior outside hitter Hailey Adler, who last year was named to the PVCA’s All District 1 Class AAA First Team and the Ches-Mont League All-League National Division First Team.

“Our team’s strengths are solid serving and defense to compliment a strong offense,” said Henderson coach Greta Neff. “Our team has been learning to play together at a fast pace. We’re hoping to continue our success to propel us into the playoffs.”

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