St. Mark’s eliminates Smyrna in volleyball tourney 2nd round 3-0

BRANDYWINE HUNDRED — St. Mark’s High may have been the lower seed in this match.

But, clearly, Smyrna was the one which had something to prove on Saturday night.

And even though the Spartans aren’t the juggernaut they once were, they’re still a pretty formidable foe in the volleyball state tournament.

No. 10 St. Mark’s was just a little too much for seventh-seeded Smyrna, eventually putting away a 3-0 victory over the Eagles in the second round of the DIAA state tourney on Saturday night at Brandywime.

The Spartans won by competitive scores of 25-15, 25-20, 25-15 to end Henlopen Conference champion Smyrna’s hopes of reaching the tournament’s third round for the first time.

Coach Danny Wandless, whose Eagles (14-3) lost a five-set match to St. Mark’s (10-7) early in the season, couldn’t help but be impressed with the Spartans’ performance.

“I tell you what, their offense was clicking tonight,” said Wandless. “Their front line is powerful when they’re getting the ball where it needs to be. They have multiple options and, when they’re making few errors, it really helps build momentum.”

“St. Mark’s played really well,” said junior Kylie McCusker. “I give them credit, they have some incredible hitters. I don’t think we made that many errors — we didn’t hand them the match. They earned it.”

Even through the Spartans’ barrage of clean hits, the Eagles found ways to hang with St. Mark’s with its defense.

In the first set, Smyrna trailed only 8-6 before the Spartans gradually pulled away. The Eagles then pulled even twice in the second set — at 14-14 and 15-15 — and was still close, trailing only 20-19 later on.

But St. Mark’s won five of the last six points to win the set.

Finally, the Eagles took their first lead in the third set. Smyrna led by as many as two points before the Spartans went up 9-8.

St. Mark’s took over from there, however, outscoring 19-7 overall to close out the match.

“It seemed like we weren’t able to get our offense running the way we have in the past,” said Wandless. “Defensively, they were making some digs and they had a few blocks as well. I tell you, they were a strong team tonight, they really were.”

This was Smyrna’s third straight appearance in the state tournament. After earning a first-round bye this time, it was also the program’s third trip to the second round.

With just one senior in Maddie Rodriguez, there’s no reason to think the Eagles won’t be back here again. Smyrna’s roster includes six sophomores and four freshmen.

“It definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth, losing,” said McCusker. “We were really close and it just slipped. It’ll happen, we’ll come back.

“You come out of it with, OK, this is where we stand. We know it now and we’re going to come back.”

“We need this type of experience — being in the second round and playing this level of competition, just having that experience is going to make us a better team,” said Wandless.

“We’re young and young players will be able to learn from this. It’s going to mean more to them next year and the year after.

“They’re going to remember this and that alone is going to make them work harder in the offseason. We want to be that public school from downstate that’s able to break into the next round of the tournament. That’s the goal. I think we have the talent to do it. It’s just a matter of making it happen.”

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