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Pope John Paul II advances to PAC Final after 5-set thriller over Perkiomen Valley

Pope John Paul II players celebrate after winning the fourth set against Perkiomen Valley in the PAC semifinals on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. (Austin Hertzog/Digital First Media)

UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Mary Kate Mooney described her herself as ‘terrified.’ Madeline Mulcahey spoke of how her hands were shaking.

That’s how high the stakes felt in the decisive fifth set of Monday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference girls volleyball semifinal between Mooney and Mulcahey’s Pope John Paul II and Perkiomen Valley.

Through all the nerves, the reigning PAC champion Golden Panthers came through the edge-of-your-seat five-setter, rallying to defeat the Vikings, 20-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 15-13, in a match as close as the scores appear.

The Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team celebrates after match point upon defeating Perkiomen Valley in five sets in the PAC semifinals Monday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“It was just incredible,” said junior Mulcahey. “The energy of our entire team together, something just melded together. These are the games that make me love volleyball. These are the games I live for.”

Pope John Paul II (17-3) booked its return to the PAC final after winning the inaugural Final Four in 2016, albeit with a much different looking lineup than Monday. Despite graduating Mercury All-Area Player of the Year Alana Pergine and All-Area first teamers Myah Cordrey and Alyssa Cianciulli, the new-look Panthers showed the pedigree of a championship team by coming up clutch from down 2-1.

“It’s definitely hard because we know all the big shoes we have to fill. It’s been on us from the start, we know we’re the ones being chased,” Mulcahey said. “So it’s hard for us, but we have to remember that no matter what happened in the past we only have to worry about this game.”

PJP will face unbeaten Upper Merion – a 3-0 winner over Spring-Ford in the other semifinal – in the championship Wednesday (7 p.m.) at Pope John Paul II.

In the most important points, PJP leaned on senior outside hitter Mooney, who had a game-high 15 kills and eight digs. Her kill won the second set 25-23 to level it at 1-1 apiece and her hit down the line on match point, after a darting run by setter Maddie Lesinski (28 assists, 13 digs) to get in position for the assist, gave PJP the victory.

Pope John Paul II’s Mary Kate Mooney (9) hits down the line for a kill against Perkiomen Valley during their PAC semifinal Monday at Pope John Paul II. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“I definitely do what I can for my team,” Mooney said. “The team means so much to me so when we’re in those tough situations I want to do everything I can to get the point for us.”

Perkiomen Valley (13-5), which had won the regular season meeting 3-2 between the pair, was led by junior Sarah Straub (13 kills, two aces), senior Helena Clauhs (12 kills, 14 digs) and senior setter Ellie Min (36 assists, 11 digs, five kills). They are ranked No. 5 in the District 1-4A power rankings.

The Vikings appeared on their way after rallying from 12-6 and 18-22 down to win the third set 25-23. Even moreso when PV took a 7-0 fourth-set lead, but Mooney sensed the Golden Panthers were in fine position.

Pope John Paul II’s Madeline Mulcahey (15) plays a tip shot over Perkiomen Valley blocker Grace Herbein (20) during their PAC semifinal Monday at Pope John Paul II. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“After the third set when we came back in the huddle we just regrouped. I think we’re very good at communicating with each other and bringing each other up,” she said. “We just decided we’re going to go all-in.”

That’s what it took tied 23-23 in the fourth as Mooney made a brave leave along the sideline for set point and a PV error leveled the match.

The momentum – as little of it as there was – became PJP’s and it came through in the clutch, no matter the nerves.

“I think it was in our heads all along that we could win,” Mulcahey said. “I don’t think there was a specific turning point. We knew from the start that if we played our best we could win.”

PJP, which is ranked No. 3 in the District 1-3A power rankings, also got 42 digs from junior Simone Sparano while freshman Chelsea Harvey had nine digs and 25 assists.

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