WHITEHALL >> In the minds of many, the PIAA Class AAA Final took place on Tuesday night inside Whitehall’s High School Gymnasium.
“That right there,” said Allentown Central Catholic head coach Laurie Corcoran, “was the state championship game.”
District 11 champion Allentown Central, down two games to one midway through, stormed back to take a 3-2 win over Pope John Paul II in the first round of the state tournament. With the win, the Vikettes (18-4 overall) advance to the second round for the first time since 2009.
They’ll take on Cardinal O’Hara (winner over York Suburban) in the quarterfinals on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“We had a lot of unfinished business this year,” said Corcoran, referencing the team’s first-round bow against Villa Maria last season. “Our team showed a lot of character, coming back from down 2-1. They could have sat back and got down on themselves, but they never did. They fought back and earned this.”
Allentown Central took Game One 25-20 before Pope John Paul claimed Games Two and Three by scores of 25-16 and 25-23, respectively.
After ACC claimed Game Four 25-23, the Vikettes closed it out in thrilling fashion, taking the final three points to win the set 16-14 and claim the match.
Dana Roberts (10 service points) and Rachel Hess had 13 kills apiece while Olivia Rudjord had 11. Megan Nelson had nine kills against one error. Julia Bradford landed four aces and had 10 service points.
For Pope John Paul II (14-0 Pioneer Athletic Conference; 20-3 overall), the runner-up from District One, Tuesday was the first time any player on the Golden Panthers’ roster had experienced back-to-back losses.
Fresh off a 3-1 loss against Gwynedd Mercy in last week’s district title game, PJP couldn’t find a way to slam the door on Allentown Central for good.
“This match was everything it was supposed to be,” said PJP head coach Ryan Sell. “Both sides brought it. We’ve got no shame leaving here. I know we’re on the wrong end of it, but my kids fought hard and left it out there.
“We knew it was going to come down to little things. Little blocking errors here and there, our passing was a little shaky at times, too. Overall though, I really liked the way my team played.”
Mary Kate Mooney posted 19 kills and 19 digs while Alana Pergine finished with 15 kills, including a pair of spikes that shook the Richter scale to seal the final two points of Game Three. Myah Cordrey had 13 kills and Shelby Hogan posted 18 service points. Hayley Wusinich also added 50 assists while Alyssa Cianciulli had 35 digs.
For Cianciulli, the senior libero and the obvious team hypeman, the end of the 2016 season also marks the end of a successful four-year run.
That said, she couldn’t help but feel a bit reflective afterward.
“We wanted to go through one game at a time,” she said. “I wish I - and I’m sure the other seniors - could say we’ll get them next time, but as sad as it is to say, it’s over. We wanted to go to the championship, but it just wasn’t our time.”
Though the season comes to an abrupt finish that few would have predicted, the Golden Panthers have plenty to look back upon. The loss to ACC included, Pope John Paul II held a 64-10 advantage in games this season, winning 19 games in straight sets.
“Our seniors are awesome, I love them to death,” said Sell. “All these girls have meant a ton to this program. We weren’t ready for this season to end but that’s just the way it is.
“It’s a shame that we had to go up against them (Allentown Central) in the opening round, but that’s the way it is. I’m proud of these girls.”
NOTES >> All season long, Pope John Paul II had held the top ranking according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches’ Asssociation (PVCA) with Allentown Central trailing at No. 2 in Class AAA. Following PJP’s loss in the district championship, the two teams swapped places.