ROYERSFORD >> During his first five seasons at the helm of the Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team, head coach Ryan Sell has never had one player dominate the stat sheet.
This season, though, in the wake of a major graduation exodus from last year’s starting lineup, Mary Kate Mooney has been forced to step into that role.
And if Tuesday night’s result was any indication, the senior outside-hitter looks plenty ready to take on that challenge.
Mooney filled up the stat sheet in pacing the Golden Panthers with 12 kills, 14 digs and 16 service points to lead the PJP to a win over Spring-Ford in straight sets.
“We’ve had a fairly even offense for a long time,” said Sell, noting that Mooney is the team’s lone returning starter from last season’s state playoff team. “This year, Mary Kate has had to step into a big role for us.
“She’s got to play six rotations, she’s got to pass all the time, she’s got to play defense,” Sell added, “and she’s one of our best servers. So it’s about being a senior leader and contributing any way she can. We know she’ll be doing that each game for us.”
“I’m happy to play wherever my coach needs me to, as long as I can contribute,” said Mooney. “As long as he doesn’t ask me to set, I’m all for it.
“The seniors from last year certainly were (good leaders), so I feel I have big shoes to fill.”
Each point became seemingly more difficult as the matches drew on. Throughout the match, no team held more than a six-point advantage. Set scores were 26-24, 25-19 and 26-24, all three coming down to the wire.
The win improves PJP to 4-1 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (5-1 overall). The Golden Panthers are now 4-0 since suffering their first league loss since the 2015 season — a 3-0 decision against Upper Merion earlier this month. Spring-Ford drops to 2-2 in PAC play (4-3 overall) as the Rams still have yet to beat PJP since the school’s inception in 2010.
Going hand-in-hand with Mooney’s standout performance, PJP setter Chelsea Harvey finished with 12 assists, six service points and a pair of aces while Maddie Lesinski had 18 assists and Simone Soprano had 19 digs. Outside hitter Madeline Mulcahey and right-side hitter Caitlin Gilinger finished with nine and five kills, respectively, while middle-hitter Mikeala Monroe had 10 service points.
“We’ve had our ups and downs so far. We’re a fairly young team,” said Sell. “So there’s lots of learning going on still, but our kids are working hard in the gym for sure. So we’re gonna continue getting better.”
From the other end, Spring-Ford head coach Josh McNulty has seen plenty of promise from his team as the season has wore on.
“We made a lot of really good, aggressive plays,” said McNulty. “I thought we read their hitters pretty well — we were picking up their tips and things like that. We just made a couple poor choices at really inopportune times of the game.”
Carly Swenson finished with 26 assists, three kills and four digs while Olivia Olsen had 11 kills, two aces, two blocks and two digs. Alexis Palucki finished with 15 kills and a pair of blocks while Grace Kraft had 15 digs and Rachel Kearson posted eight kills.
The Rams kept themselves right within striking distance through each set.
In the opener, the Rams rallied back from a 24-19 deficit to push the Golden Panthers to their limit. In the second set, Spring-Ford had it tight at 20-19 before PJP strung together five straight points to close it out. The Rams also traded late blows with PJP in the final set before a pair of spikes from Mulcahey put the finishing touches on the night.
“It’s always nice to see them come out and play strong, especially against PJP,” said McNulty, noting that the teams mesh together plenty of times during club volleyball. “They all know each other and they’re always talking. Normally it’s an ‘Oh no. We’re playing PJP’ type thing, but this year, the kids seem focused and prepared. That’s been really good to see.”
Pope John Paul II has beaten Spring-Ford in straight sets nine straight times dating back to the 2013 season, including a 3-0 finish in last season’s PAC Championship.