MILLTOWN – In each of the last six seasons, the quarterfinals of the DIAA Volleyball State Tournament had marked the end of the road for Charter of Wilmington.
But the undefeated Force are different this year, and they hammered home that point with a 3-0 quarterfinal sweep of Smyrna on Tuesday night at St. Mark’s.
Second-seeded Charter (18-0) will meet Padua (14-3) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Mark’s. The third-seeded Pandas downed Wilmington Friends 3-0 in the first quarterfinal on Tuesday.
The Force have lost only two games all season. But after dominating the first game 25-11 against Smyrna, the Eagles came back to lead most of the second game before Charter rallied for a 25-23 win that pleased coach Dave Stover.
“We need to be a team with grit,” Stover said. “We need to handle the tough moments, and this is one of the first few tough moments we’ve had this year. We’ve never been behind in a close game when it really counts like this. So the girls showed some good grit.”
Charter jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the second game. But Smyrna (14-3) showed some of its own grit, reeling off nine straight points to take a 12-9 lead.
“They shifted their defense,” Stover said of the Eagles. “They had two people on the line and moved the left back to middle back. We like to hit that way, and they stacked a lot of people up there. I think we tried too hard. We tried to brute force it through there, and they played good defense.”
The Eagles continued to stay with the Force, and led as late as 22-21 before Charter won four of the last five points, capped by a kill from Liz Marcin.
“We tried not to look at the score,” Marcin said. “We were just always there to pull each other up when we hit a lull.”
The Force made some adjustments in the third game and closed it out with a dominating, 25-5 victory.
“Their block was farther over, so we just had to work around the block and serve consistently,” said Olivia DiMaio, who led Charter with 14 kills. “I think we were just really determined to win.”
The Force are loaded with seven seniors, including Marcin and DiMaio. They will face a stiff semifinal test against Padua, which has won the last two state titles.
“We’ve played together since freshman year, the seniors,” Marcin said. “This past year, we really got to know each other well and became extremely close. As a result, just knowing each other’s reflexes and potential, we’ve really just melded as a team.”
Marimar Rodriguez led Smyrna with four blocks and two aces.
Padua 3, Wilmington Friends 0
Freshman Emily Jarome had 11 kills, and seniors Stephanie Annone and Vanessa Crumety each added nine kills as the Pandas got past the Quakers (11-6). The game scores were 25-17, 27-25 and 25-23.
The two-time champs’ tournament experience came in handy during the tight second and third games.
“It definitely helps. We know how to get there, because we’ve done it before,” Annone said. “We know that we have to play strong and play together as a team, not just individuals.”
Haley Baker added five kills and 37 assists, and Sarah Wiley led the Padua defense with 21 digs.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ