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Smooth defense helps Pope John Paul II to easy win over Gwynedd Mercy Academy

LOWER GWYNEDD — It was a return to form for the Golden Panthers girls’ volleyball team on Wednesday as they traveled to Gwynedd Mercy Academy and put their defensive prowess on display.

In straight sets (25-13, 25-13, 25-20), Pope John Paul II left little for the Monarchs to work with as the visitors were able to apply constant pressure and come out on top of long rallies. The Monarchs put down some well-placed kills, but the Panthers were simply too well disciplined to sneak out a win.

“We’re coming back this year with some experience,’ said Panthers’ coach Ryan Sell. “I think a lot of our mistakes were just nervous errors. It’s early in the year, I expect us to bounce back.’

In particular, the second set was one in which the Panthers did well to offer the Monarchs a victory. Down five points early, the Panthers chipped away at the lead between well placed kills by Nicole Dorman, Kelly Tornetta and Alana Pergine. Led by senior setter Grace Dawson, who stepped into the captain’s shoes after the graduation of two-time Times Herald Athlete of the Year, Geena Bevenour, she helped culminate a come-from-behind victory after trailing into the 21st point.

“We have a strong offense with some big hitters,’ Dawson said, “but I think our defense is key.’

Sell, too, echoed that statement, saying his team will pride themselves this season on being a more-than-capable back row team.

“We have a lot of talented back row players,’ Sell said. “That’s definitely our strong point.’

After seeming to give more points away than allowing the Panthers to earn them in the first set, the Monarchs proved to be a tough matchup in the second and third sets, but again, too many missed serves, missed kills and sets off the net enabled PJPII to play loose and confident.

“We just seemed to be fighting for every point,’ said first-year coach Mike Nguyen. “We had to play some scrappy defense, but we slipped up in the third set.’

After losing in the state quarterfinals last season, falling 3-1 to Lansdale Catholic, the Panthers finished the season with a 27-6-1 record, the PAC-10 title and a District One championship, but were hungry for more. In 2014, through the First Kill Tournament and now through their first match of the season, the Panthers have dropped just two sets — one to Emmaus and one to Upper Merion.

As always, their goal remains the same.

“Right now we’re trying to have an undefeated season,’ Dawson said. “Last year we lost in states because we thought we were invincible.

“We know better now, we just keep building.’

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