May 15—Chase Sturz didn't know a year ago if he would play again for the Exeter boys volleyball team.
His junior season was canceled because of the pandemic. He wasn't sure he was going to play this season because he was concerned he would spread COVID-19 to his mother, a breast cancer survivor.
Once she was vaccinated early this year, Sturz was all in, much to the delight of the Eagles.
He had 14 kills to lead Exeter to a stunning 3-0 victory over Wilson and its third consecutive Berks League championship Saturday at West Lawn.
"There really are no words," Sturz said. "This is what we've been striving for the whole time and we got it."
The Eagles (18-2) lost twice to the Bulldogs (13-5) in the regular season in five-game matches, including one eight days earlier. They served better, defended better and set better in the 25-18, 25-22, 25-21 win.
They fine-tuned their game in playoff wins over Wyomissing and Brandywine Heights. Chase Nugent and Jake Haller combined for nine of Exeter's 12 aces.
"We served a lot tougher today," coach Shawn Ganter said. "We know if that's on, it puts a lot of hardship on them. It's a lot of pressure on them to run any kind of offense. They can't get in their system."
Wilson struggled to find its rhythm on offense or Brady Hart, its best player. The Bulldogs hit 16-of-57 shots for winners, a poor success rate. Nugent had 11 digs for Exeter, and Logan Reber and Sturz each had six.
"They were getting everything up," said Matt Hadley, who was acting as Wilson coach with Andrew Olree at home with COVID-19. "They were in all the right spots."
It's not a coincidence that Ganter has coached Exeter to 12 Berks championships in his 25 seasons. He made a minor adjustment on offense, having Reber set the ball to 6-5 freshman middle hitter Gaige Gabriel early in the match so that Wilson couldn't focus its blocking on Sturz.
Gabriel had half of his 14 kills by the early moments of the second game, which gave Sturz room on the outside.
"Gaige spreads the court," Sturz said. "Instead of having two or three blockers on me, I had one or maybe two and I could hit around them. It was great to get Gaige more involved."
Reber also was precise with his sets after moving to the position earlier this year. He finished with 35 assists, two kills and an ace.
"He's still learning on the job," Ganter said about Reber. "When you see he and I talk a lot, it's about process, patience, selection and decision-making. I thought he did a really good job today."
In the third game, Exeter took a 10-5 lead on Sturz's block and maintained a comfortable gap until late. Wilson pulled within 23-21 before Reber found Sturz and Gabriel to close it out.
It was a disappointing loss for the Bulldogs and their nine seniors, who badly wanted to win the title. Hart finished with eight kills, 14 digs and two blocks, Zahid Mansaray had five kills, nine digs and two blocks, and Luca Marchio had 12 digs.
"You feel for them because they worked so hard to get here," Hadley said. "It's just tough. You want the best for them. They have another opportunity (the District 3 playoffs) next week to get better."
As the Berks I champion, Wilson had a quarterfinal bye in the Berks playoffs. The Eagles did not because they finished second in the division.
"Wilson had just one game to get ready for this and we had two," Sturz said. "Each game we played really well, just like we did today. I think those two games really helped us. We improved our defense and our passing. They couldn't get the ball down."
It was the final Berks title match for Sturz and Ganter, who is resigning after this season. He has 403 career wins, a Berks record, and has led Exeter to 17 appearances in the final.
He was not in a reflective mood.
"I'm just happy for the moment," Ganter said. "I saw this in these guys, but they're all learning on the job. It's taken some time. The stops and starts (because of COVID issues at Exeter) didn't help our cause. I knew if we could hang on, it was going to come together."
Sturz hugged his mother and received handshakes and pats on the back from several of his former teammates, who missed last season as seniors when they had the highest of hopes.
"This is for them," he said. "It's amazing. I've been with those guys and Shawn since I was in seventh grade. I'm glad I got to do this, but we're not done yet."