UPPER MERION >> The Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team won the inaugural Pioneer Athletic Conference championship game in three sets, 25-22, 25-16, 25-13, over Spring-Ford Thursday night at Upper Merion Area High School.
“It’s awesome,” PJP’s Alana Pergine said. “It’s our senior year. It’s our last little roundabout together. I’ve been playing with these girls since I was 10 years old. To win a PAC championship was amazing.”
“We have multiple goals we wanted to accomplish this season,” senior Alyssa Cianculli added. “This was definitely the first one. We just feel amazing. It’s the first year that there’s been PAC playoffs, we just feel amazing that we could make history.”
The top-seeded Panthers only really struggled at one time during the entire match and that was to begin the first set. The No. 3 seeded Rams immediately jumped out to a 7-2 lead to force a PJP timeout and the lead grew to 11-4.
“Our gameplan was just to come out and play the best volleyball we could,” Spring-Ford coach Josh McNulty said. “PJP is such an offensive power house and great team .. It’s a lot of fun to play them and we know we have to be playing our best volleyball to beat them. We did that in the first game. We played some of the best volleyball we played all year long.”
Then the Panthers turned it on. They tied the match and 14 and — without ever falling behind by more than three points — took the lead at 21-20. They closed it out, 25-22, when Pergine and Alina Ralston blocked a shot off a Spring-Ford player.
“We came out a little nervous, a little freaked out,” PJP senior Myah Cordrey said. “We just took a deep breath, got back to playing how we normally play and it worked out.”
“I was very happy with the way my kids came out in the first game,” McNulty said. “I told them, ‘You just scared them right there. They may have won that first game, but you got them thinking a little bit.’”
“I don’t think we played particularly well in that first set ever,” PJP coach Ryan Sell said. “We’ll look at some stuff we can change maybe with our warmup. We didn’t pass very well, so that limits our options and we made some unforced errors, scrambling a lot.”
The second and third sets got off to much different starts after the Panthers made some adjustments to their starting rotation. PJP jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second and an 8-1 lead in the third.
Spring-Ford scrapped back in the second set, pulling within two at 17-15. Pope John Paul responded by scoring eight of the next nine points and Pergine finished the set, 25-16, with a huge spike to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
“I love that,” Pergine said of finishing off sets. “That’s me and Hayley (Wusinich’s) thing. It’s awesome, it’s a good feeling.”
Spring-Ford was never able to make much of a comeback in the third set after PJP jumped out to an 8-1 edge. The Rams got within four at 10-6, but the lead quickly ballooned back up to 19-10. PJP’s Shelby Horgan finished the set with an ace, 25-13, to crown the Panthers champions.
Pergine led the Panthers with nine kills and Cordrey added seven. Wusinich tallied a team-high 32 assists and Cianciulli had 13 digs.
Both teams will be competing in the District 1 playoffs next week.
Top Photo: Pope John Paul II poses with the PAC championship after defeating Spring-Ford in three sets Thursday. (Barry Taglieber/Digital First Media)