Germantown Academy Volleyball 2023 PAISAA Champions. (Photo/ Ryan Nix for PSD)
By John Knebels
(Photos by Ryan Nix)
ROSEMONT – After the serve found its mark, the long, arduous journey had reached its zenith.
The sideline, anticipating match point for what seemed an eternity, erupted. They immediately hurried over to their exhausted, euphoric heroines. Players hugged and cried tears of victorious ecstasy before being quickly enveloped by a throng of celebratory students who joined the chaotic party at center court.
Though some time has passed since Germantown Academy outlasted Academy of Notre Dame in the PAISAA volleyball championship November 8 at Agnes Irwin School’s spacious gymnasium, the memories of the decisive point that clinched a 25-17, 25-19, 32-34, 25-20 title will forever be emblazoned in the hearts of those who participated in GA’s first-ever tournament title.
“To be honest, I had no idea it was game point,” said Germantown Academy senior captain Angie Wang, who aced the untouched championship point and finished with 20 digs and 27 assists, the latter statistic seconded by sophomore teammate Nicole Ward’s 24. “The whole fourth set I was just focused on playing and I wasn’t looking at the score at all. So, when I got the ace, I went in to celebrate like I would any other point, but it didn’t hit me that we had won the game until my whole team and all the fans rushed out onto the court. To be able to win such an intense game on an ace and a point earned by our team as opposed to an error by the other team just really topped everything off.”
Entering the final with a nine-year championship streak, Notre Dame faced a GA opponent that had already defeated them twice during the season. The same exact challenge had awaited Notre Dame in last year’s tourney, and the undeterred Irish responded with a surprising, though not shocking, straight-set triumph.
Still feeling the aftereffects of a devastating setback described by senior Kaitlin Pokorny as “an all-time low for the entire team,” the Patriots refused to even consider a repeat. After taking the first two sets with relative ease and forging an 18-13 lead in the third, Germantown Academy appeared to be just minutes away from finally breaking Notre Dame’s PAISAA dominance.
Notre Dame, however, had other ideas. Six straight points gave the Irish a 19-18 lead, their first since winning two of the set’s first three points. The Patriots regained control, but despite leading by scores of 24-23, 25-24, 27-26, 29-28, and 32-31 and needing just one more point to make history, they could not prevent the determined Irish from forcing a fourth set.
“The third set was definitely crazy and mentally exhausting, but if anything, I feel like it made our team more determined to win,” said Wang, who earlier this year earned her 1000th career assist. “We made a lot of unforced errors in that set, so after we lost that set, in our huddle we talked about just playing our game and doing what we do best because we knew we had the ability to win.”
Joining particularly key contributions by junior Ali Czachor (36 assists), junior Vikki Zelubowski (19 kills), senior Maddi Brown (11 digs and seven kills), and sophomore Paityn Kehoe (18 digs), Notre Dame’s abbreviated comeback often involved spirited defense by sophomore Kayla Edginton, who led the Irish with five blocks while adding four kills.
“It says a lot about our character and how we came together at the end of the season,” said Edginton. “Early in the year we may not have known how to react, but as the season went along, we really grew together as a team.
“We knew exactly what we were up against having lost to them twice before, and we were really excited to play them again. They are a good team with a lot upperclassman who had lost to us before (in 2022). We knew that they were going to give us their best shot.
“In a way we liked being the underdog, but we also have carried the title for nine years, so we expected to win. We really wanted to send our seniors off as winners, but we are proud of what we accomplished this year. Losing to GA will help us in the future and it will motivate us heading into next season.”
When including into the mix an almost perfect regular season, a second straight undefeated Inter-Academic League title, and an immensely satisfying five-set victory over eventual Catholic League champion Lansdale Catholic, Germantown Academy’s season rivaled a fairy tale plot.
Wang leaves a program that graduates six seniors and eagerly anticipates successfully defend its league and PAISAA crowns.
“It felt like the perfect way to end my high school volleyball career,” said Wang. “I’ve seen our volleyball program grow so much over the years since I was a freshman, so while this championship feels like a culmination of my volleyball career, I also believe it’s just the start for GA’s volleyball program, so this win feels like a part of something bigger than myself.
“I’m really proud of how our underclassmen were able to step up and handle the pressure of playing in a state championship match with that big of a crowd. I think it just shows how bright of a future this team has.”
For the Pokorny sisters – aforementioned senior Kaitlin and SOPHOMORE Emily – leaving the court for the final time as teammates induced mixed emotions.
“I will miss my sister more than I can even comprehend,” said Kaitlin, who plans to major in biological sciences on a pre-medical track at a still-undecided institution. “Being able to play with her even for a year is so nice. I have watched her skills grow before my eyes, and it makes me so proud that she has blossomed into this amazing player. It’s such a nice feeling knowing that my sister was better than I was at her age, and I’m so excited to see her accomplishments in her next two seasons.”
Emily Porkorny, whose 10 kills were third best after junior Caroline Smith (24 kills, 15 digs, two blocks) and junior Hadley Evans (13 kills, five digs), offered effusive praise for her older sibling.
“It’s actually been amazing playing with Kate this year,” said Emily. “She has taught me so much throughout the season, and I genuinely wouldn’t be where I am today without her. During the season, Kate was the one person to reassure me anytime I had doubts about my skill, and I will forever be grateful for what she has done for me on and off the court.
“I have thought about next season without Kate and all my friends, and I have agreed it’s never going to be the same. She has left such a huge impact on all of us, and nothing will compare to having her on the team. Next season, we are all just going to try to live up to the legacy she left.”
Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)