EPC boys volleyball championship: Emmaus claims gold with wins over Whitehall and Parkland
After claiming the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference title over the weekend, Emmaus boys volleyball coach Ken Dunkle feels his team is on its way up.
The Green Hornets avenged two regular-season losses by knocking off two powerful teams. Down two sets, Emmaus came back for a thrilling victory over Whitehall in the semifinals, then edged Parkland in the finals, also in five sets, to claim gold.
With the tournament victory — and a new playoff format — Emmaus receives the top seed and a first-round bye in the District 11 Class 3A tournament, which begins Thursday.
“We’re definitely coming together the past week and a half or so. I’m hoping we haven’t peaked yet,” Dunkle said. “The potential is there, and the kids are believing. I think we are an entirely different team from the first time we played Whitehall [in April]. We are running a 6-2 now and we’re really getting our offense clicking.”
Emmaus has received solid individual efforts throughout the season from all of its starters. In Saturday’s final against the Trojans, the Green Hornets were led by Nick Blose (21 kills, 13 digs), Kyle McKiernan (19 kills, 16 digs), Gannon DeFrain (5 kills, 12 digs, 27 assists), Haydn Child (22 digs), and Ben Maskiell (9 digs, 27 assists).
Dunkle said all of his players have stepped up this season in a total team effort.
“It’s huge when you’re not just a one-horse team. We’ve got everybody pulling, every single guy on the court can make plays,” said Dunkle.
While the Green Hornets have set themselves up for a district title run, they also understand there is much work to do. Any of the top three teams in District 11 can come out on top when all is said and done.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is keeping a strong fire, but not too much. We’re starting to amp up and keep the RPMs up, but we don’t want to go so far that we burn ourselves out,” Dunkle said. “I think for this week, we will focus on a film day and maybe set up some grass courts outside and let them have at it. We will identify some of the areas that we need to adjust. I think there were five plays where we thought we put the ball down against Parkland, but they made a great play and kept the ball in. We have to keep our heads in it.”
District tournament pairings
Although Emmaus has a lower regular-season power ranking than both Whitehall and Parkland, the Green Hornets clinched the top seed in districts due to their EPC tournament crown. That means Emmaus is in a great spot because it’s on the opposite side of the bracket of the Zephyrs and Trojans, and will not see either team until the finals.
However, the quarterfinal winner between No. 4 Northampton and No. 5 Easton will not be an easy semifinal for the Green Hornets. Dunkle considers the Konkrete Kids as a strong No. 4 seed, who can be a threat to any team in the bracket.
Northampton hosts the Red Rovers on Thursday to get things started. In the other quarterfinals, No. 3 Whitehall hosts No. 6 Nazareth, and No. 2 Parkland hosts No. 7 Liberty.
A Whitehall-Parkland semifinal is a potential huge matchup, as both teams will look to lock up a spot in the final and a guaranteed state berth. The loser of that match will see its season come to an end.
“In years past, the EPC tournament had no bearing other than it being a tune-up. Obviously, you want to win it and fix things, but now it really matters because it gave us that first-round bye in districts,” Dunkle said. “Now, Parkland and Whitehall get to battle it out in the semifinals. We can’t look past Northampton or Easton, but it’s definitely a much preferable road to travel.”
Dante Terenzio is a freelancer for The Morning Call.