Sunday, February 18, 2018
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Eagles Sweep Ephrata


When Ephrata’s Micaela Sensenig threw up a block midway through the first set posting the Mountaineers to a 13-11 lead, you couldn’t blame Cocalico, especially the seniors, for harkening back to previous matches against the Mounts.

Maybe that should be previous nightmares.

Those matches nearly all went Ephrata’s way. For instance, Ephrata defeated Cocalico twice last season.

New seasons, though, bring new beginnings and sometimes, a switch in fortunes. Thursday night, the host Eagles shook off some early nerves and went on a 9-1 run to grab control of that first set and the match, winning 3-0 (25-16, 25-8, 25-19).

Cocalico’s general experience advantage and defense were the key to its victory, its second in a week after beating Elco 3-0 on Tuesday.

Ephrata had a 9-5 lead early in the first set when Eagles’ coach Jere Kimmich called timeout, hoping to cut off another possible nightmare.

“I just told them that we wanted to control the ball a little more and be a little more patient," Kimmich said. “I think we did a better job of that. Plus, I think we relaxed a little bit."

The Cocalico run may have deflated an Ephrata team that came into the match hurting a little bit. Ephrata lost starting setter Mollie Rohrer when she suffered a concussion in the Mounts’ loss to Elizabethtown on Tuesday.

Brooke Balmer, who sets for the JV team, and Katie Witwer, who moved from her outside hitter position for some of the match, shared the setter spot in Rohrer’s absence.

“It was tough because we had just one practice to prepare with a new setter," said Ephrata coach Melissa Witmer. “But Cocalico played very well (tonight)."

The Mounts’ returning starters include Jess Fry, Emily Yarger and Witwer, a Section Two First-Team All-Star last season, who finished with three kills, one less than team leader Julia Witmer. Witwer also had team highs in digs (five) and assists (three).

Those three starters are a contrast to Cocalico’s returning players, which include Brooke Beiler and Dana Shugarts, a pair of Section Two Second-Team All-Stars last season, and libero Sid Fritz (seven digs), defensive specialist Sid Evans and outside hitter Jennifer Maxwell (four blocks).

Katrina Schmalzer led the Eagles with seven kills.

Particularly good for the Eagles was their defense. They rarely let any balls touch the floor on their side of the net.

“We’ve worked on our defense and being quicker on our feet," said Cocalico setter Beiler, who had 21 assists. “It’s come a long way from where we started the season to now."

Thursday night’s match would have been a Section Two match for both teams last season. This season, the two-year cycle of enrollment and Lebanon Catholic’s dropping out of the L-L League due to not having enough players to field a team pushed Cocalico into Section Three.

There’s a good and notso-good with that. The good part is that the Eagles will likely battle for the section title. The not-so-good is that they will be pressed to win their nonleague matches, which Thursday’s was, to build enough power ratings points to get into the district playoffs.

In Section Three, Cocalico, a Class AAA team, will have to play two AA teams and one A team.

“We can’t have many setbacks," said Kimmich, whose team plays Conestoga Valley, a Class AAA team Monday. “We have to be ready to play every match or else we won’t qualify."

Maybe Thursday’s reversal of fortune against Ephrata will carry the Eagles through the season, whether it’s a league match or one where valuable power ratings points are at stake.