WESTTOWN >> Late in the third set, Bishop Shanahan led West Chester Rustin by a comfortable 15 points, then added another easy kill to seal a dominant 25-9 win.
However, just by looking at the faces of the Eagles’ players, you wouldn’t have known the momentum had swung and what once looked like a precarious battle with West Chester Rustin was one set away from victory.
There were a few smiles, a few high-fives, but there was mainly a focused look. A champion’s look. An “act like you’ve been there” look.
The Eagles’ championship demeanor carried into the final set and allowed Bishop Shanahan to beat Rustin 3-1 and claim the unofficial Ches-Mont League title Wednesday night in front of a raucous crowd at Rustin.
Both teams had already claimed their respective division titles.
“These girls are relentless in their work ethic,” said coach Greg Ashman. “We were in the gym yesterday and all they wanted to know was what do we need to do to win and to bring our 1th Ches-Mont championship back to our gym. They work hard. We had a team dinner scheduled after practice last night and they didn’t want to leave the gym. They want to put in the work rather than go have fun. That’s the culture we have developed in our gym.”
The battle of the unbeatens opened with the Golden Knights taking off their pink “Students Unite With Her” shirts and quickly taking a 2-0 lead in the first set. However, Rustin’s lead and Bishop Shanahan’s early game jitters would prove to be short-lived as the Eagles came back and eventually stretched their lead to six points.
Behind the play of Rustin’s Kaia Johnson and Ava Stasen, the Golden Knights came within two points, but could never regain the lead. The Eagles would ultimately go on to win the first set, 25-22.
The second set started off in much the same way. Both teams traded leads early in the set, Bishop Shanahan taking another six-point lead and the Golden Knights catching back up at the tail end of the set. However, this time Johnson and Stasen took it personally. Behind the serving of Stasen and the spiking and blocking of Johnson, Rustin overcame a seven-point deficit and spiked to a 25-23 victory.
“Losing that second set showed us that we had to step up our game,” said Julie Gallagher. “It showed us that Rustin was a really good team and that we need to be ready to play any team. I think we did a great job executing. After the second set we were definitely a little bit frustrated, but I think we used that frustration in a great way to really come back.”
“We knew what we were doing wrong,” said Renee Shultz. “We knew what we had to do better so we went into the third set with the mindset of let’s step up our game. Let’s do what we have to do and execute these points. We just had more fire going into the next set.”
The Eagles were on fire in the third set. Anything that Shanahan wanted to do worked and all Rustin could do was try to take the punches.
However, Rustin refuse to go down without a fight as the Golden Knights tried to force a fifth set, but after the Eagles jumped out to a 4-0 start in the fourth set, Shanahan stormed to a 25-15 win and a 3-1 victory.
“You see a match like this and that’s what they’re all about,” said Ashman. “Teams get things here and there on us, but they don’t break. They’ll bend a little bit, but they don’t break. We’ve been in some really tough matches this year and this is one of the tougher ones. Rustin is a good team. They’re going to go far in the district and I’m sure they’ll qualify for states. We’ll probably have to play them in district playoffs at some point.”
“I’m just so proud of our team,” said Shultz. “How hard we worked and the chemistry we had out on the court. I’m just proud that we showed up and did what we had to do. We love it when we have our student section and friends and family with us, the energy they bring us really helps and it showed today.”