By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
READING – Few opponents have been able to deal with, much less counteract, Bishop Shanahan’s power game at the net. But on Tuesday in the semifinals of the PIAA Class 4A volleyball tournament, Parkland did exactly that.
Led by blockers Sam Graver and Morgan Sherwin, the District 11 champions handed the Eagles their only loss of the season, and in the process ousted Shanahan from postseason play just one game shy of a berth in the state final. The scores from Exeter Township High School were 25-18, 27-29, 25-21, 25-23.
“Parkland has the two real good blockers. We knew they’d give us trouble, and they did at times,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman.
“Against opponents that block well, you have to hit around them,” added freshman outside hitter Cara Shultz. “I struggled with that tonight. We have to learn to better adjust.”
Playing in semifinals for the first time since 2009, the Eagles split the first two sets, only to drop the final two after getting off to shaky starts in both. Shanahan wraps up the season with a 24-1 overall mark, which is remarkable considering there was only two seniors — Alexa Marcum and Jenna Lostito – in the playing rotation.
“If you would have told me we’d be a set away from making it to the finals, I wouldn’t have believed you — not with the roster we had,” Ashman said.
“We were young this season, but we were resilient and I think we proved a lot of people wrong,” Marcum added. “There is so much room for this group to improve, and I think they will be great for several years.”
Now 24-1 overall, Parkland will play the Garnet Valley-State College winner for the state title on Saturday in Johnstown.
“We always scrimmage Shanahan in the preseason because they are always one of the best teams in the state, and it’s always a war against them,” said Parkland head coach Mike Krause. “They have such good players, like the Shultz sisters.
“We knew we had to play consistently from every position because if somebody was off, they would find it.”
There were six ties in the early going of the opening set, but Parkland opened a 15-11 margin with an 8-2 rally and never trailed again.
That made the second set all the more crucial, and Shanahan came through with a 29-27 win despite blowing leads of 13-8 and 24-22. Cara Shultz delivered six kills and an ace in the set and sister Renee Shultz chipped in three late kills and a big block.
“One thing this team has never done is give up,” Ashman said. “We preach every ball, every play of every point, and they did that.”
The two-time defending District 1 champions, Shanahan trailed early in each of the final two sets. And even though the Eagles came back in both, the early hole was simply too deep to recover. The Trojans scored the first seven points in set No. 3, and were ahead 10-3 in the early going in the fourth. Ashman called a timeout in both instances, but the damage had been done.
“Maybe we just let them go one or two points too far,” Ashman said.
“We told ourselves we weren’t going to get down early, and it was just mental errors,” Marcum added. “We came back but it was a little too late.”
Just a rookie, Cara Shultz wrapped up an amazing first high school season with a team-high 23 kills, and added 16 digs and two aces. Her sister Renee chipped in with 16 kills, 21 assists and seven digs.
“That team (Parkland) will probably win the state title and we hung with them,” Cara Shultz said.
“I think our future is very bright. I think in the next three seasons we can win states.”
Playing for the final time in high school, Losito delivered 18 digs and Marcum added four kills and eight digs.
Afterwards, Ashman downplayed the notion that Shanahan may have been feeling any additional pressure because it headed into the final four with an unblemished record.
“I don’t think pressure had anything to do with it,” he said. “We talked before the season about how a champion responds – when everyone looks at you and puts you on a pedestal, how do you respond? All year long our kids responded.”
Cara Shultz agreed: “There is always pressure going into the playoffs whether you are undefeated or not. Our team played its hardest and it was just that we ran into a very good team.”