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Bittersweet ending for McCann family as Carroll volleyball falls

ASTON >> Archbishop Carroll coach Brian McCann had a good reason for leaving his Archbishop Wood post three years ago. His daughter Emily began her Patriots volleyball career just as the school’s head coaching position opened.

Wednesday night at Neumann University, the elder McCann found himself with a foot on both sidelines as Carroll faced off against the Vikings, including 10 of his former players, in the Catholic League final. It would be a bittersweet reunion and an emotional end for McCann. Wood prevailed in four games (19-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-23) to advance to the District 12 Class AA final.

The second-seeded Patriots, who lost, 3-2, to the Vikings in the regular season, gave top-ranked Wood all it could handle through four sets. After trailing early in the opening game, Carroll rallied through a 16-11 run to take a 1-0 lead. Emily McCann provided much of the damage as she did all game. She finished with 19 kills and was supported by Hannah Wright’s 20. Together they battered the Vikings outside players with blistering shots.

Archbishop Carroll’s Hannah Wright soars at the net for a kill, one of the 20 she was credited with, during the Patriots’ 3-1 loss to Archbishop Wood in the Catholic League title match Wednesday night. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Archbishop Carroll’s Hannah Wright soars at the net for a kill, one of the 20 she was credited with, during the Patriots’ 3-1 loss to Archbishop Wood in the Catholic League title match Wednesday night. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

“We knew their strength was in the middle back,” said Brian McCann. “We tried to hit the ball down the line. We were still trying to do it (through games two-four). We just were making a ton of mistakes.”

The confidence following the first win gave way to over-eagerness. The Patriots started to hit balls into the net or well out of bounds. Some of the Vikings’ returns fell between two Carroll defenders, whose instincts ran them into trouble. One could hardly blame Carroll for these miscues. With Emily McCann the only senior on the roster, the Patriots gave away precious experience to veteran-laden Wood.

“This is the first time we’ve been to the championship in five years,” said Brian McCann.

“I would say we were very tense,” added Emily McCann. “We were trying to stick together.”

The Vikings trailed just once in the second set before rolling to a dominant third. The deep squad took turns making plays to keep the underdogs at bay.

“Our team has great energy,” senior captain Megan Cook said of Wood. “We know how to pick ourselves up. We know how to put a smile on our faces and get back into it.”

Cook (seven kills), Maggie Gorman (13 kills), and Hayley Glah (10 kills) provided the punch, while Ashley McAfee frustrated the Carroll offense. She finished with 26 digs to leave the Patriots with little to no room for error.

However, Carroll put a late charge together that threatened to stretch the match into a fifth game. Down, 8-5, in the fourth, Brian McCann called timeout to focus his girls. They responded with a 17-11 run to take a 22-19 lead, three points away from once again taking the Vikings to the brink. But the effort needed to get back in the game drained the Patriots (16-3).

“I think we didn’t have any energy left,” said Emily McCann. “Coming back was such a boost of confidence, but we just didn’t have energy.”

Wood (18-1) took six of the final seven points to win its first PCL title in five years after losing at this stage to Lansdale Catholic a season ago.

“We’re excited to keep moving on,” said Cook. “For a lot of us, this is the last volleyball we’ll play.”

As for the McCanns they talked about the highs and lows of the evening through hugs and tears.

“He’s coached me my whole life,” Emily McCann said. She’ll continue her career at La Salle University, although her father will be rendered a fan.

“She has played at a high level for so long,” said Brian McCann. “It’s nice to get her to a championship, because she hasn’t played in one here before.”

Then he paused.

“This will be the last chance I get to coach her. It’s bittersweet.”

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