Thus far this season, Garden Spot girls volleyball had not felt vulnerable. The Spartans had run off 11 wins in a row to open their Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Two schedule, dropping no sets during that time.
All they needed was one last victory to lock up their third section crown in as many seasons.
But Elizabethtown, which has been in second for the entire year, came ready for a fight Wednesday night. The Bears gamely matched Garden Spot at every turn, putting the Spartans on their heels for arguably the first time in 2020.
Still, the Spartans emerged on top, winning a 3-1 battle for the section title.
“I preached that it was going to be a battle,” Garden Spot head coach Lauren DiPiano said. “We knew (Elizabethtown) was talented all around. They wanted it just as bad as we did. We were prepared to go to five sets.”
The Spartans came out firing in the first set, taking an early 5-1 lead with four straight points. They later went on a 6-0 run to go up 13-4. Elizabethtown fought back, with the two sides essentially trading points for the remainder of the set. But the Bears never trimmed the deficit to less than five, and Garden Spot was able to hold on and win 25-18.
Both teams battled back and forth for much of the second set until Elizabethtown took a 14-10 lead with four consecutive points. The Spartans trimmed the lead down to 19-17 late, but the Bears responded with six of the last seven to win 25-18, the first set Garden Spot has lost this season.
“I have total confidence in this team,” DiPiano said. “We played a lot of five-set matches with our backs against the wall last season, against (Elizabethown) and in the playoffs.”
The third set was a wild one, filled with multiple runs on each side. Elizabethtown kept the momentum up early. The Spartans countered quickly to tie it before the Bears embarked on another run to go up 16-10. They led as much as 19-12 before Garden Spot trimmed it with five in a row, taking a 24-21 lead with another 5-0 run to eventually win 25-22. Setter Abby O’Neill hooked up with Logan Martin for six kills in the closing 13-3 run, including the finisher.
“The beauty of this team is that we rely on everyone,” DiPiano said. “But that Martin-O’Neill connection is a tight one, and it’s fun to watch them take control of the game.”
It was tight once again to start the fourth. Elizabethtown had a 5-0 run to go up 10-7 at one point. But Garden Spot tied it almost immediately, resulting in another back and forth affair until late, where the Spartans emerged with a 25-23 win to get the victory.
O’Neill finished with 33 assists on the night, though Bears setter Angela Costa-Ouimet topped her with 35. Martin had 15 to lead the Spartans, with Julia Ellsworth dropping 9 as well. Sydney Stewart notched a game-high 20 kills for Elizabethtown; Kallee Locker chipped in with 11.
Garden Spot does have two games left on the schedule, but no one else in the section can catch them at this point. The sky’s the limit from here on out for the Spartans.
“Going forward, we need to stay confident and patient with long rallies,” DiPiano said. “I’ve seen tremendous improvements throughout the season. We just need to do our jobs.”