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Bishop Shanahan picks up style points, fourth straight district title berth

DOWNINGTOWN >> Greg Ashman’s gameday attire Wednesday night all but told the tale of the Bishop Shanahan girls volleyball team’s run so far this season.

Sporting a pair of flip-flops, khaki shorts and a hard-to-miss floral short-sleeve button-down shirt, all that was missing for the Eagles head coach was some sunglasses and an umbrella.

Ashman stood calmly along the sideline as his team downed Perkiomen Valley in 3-0 straight-sets to punch their ticket to a fourth straight District One Class 4A playoff championship game berth.

Bishop Shanahan Coach Greg Ashman looks on from the bench during Wednesday’s game. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

And while he won’t deem their fall run a vacation, Bishop Shanahan has hardly given Ashman a reason to break a sweat all year. The top-seeded and unbeaten Eagles improved to 21-0 on the season and will face No. 2-seeded Upper Merion — a 3-1 winner over Pennsbury — in Saturday’s championship game at Harriton High School. Perk Valley, the No. 5 seed, moves to 18-5 and will face No. 3 Pennsbury in the third-place game at a date and time still to be determined.

“Our whole expectation from preseason on has been to win a state title,” said Ashman, now in his 14th season with the program. “We’re not one of those teams that looks at it and says, ‘Hey, maybe we can make playoffs and qualify for states.’ We’ve got a much bigger picture in mind and we have for years.”

The Eagles have won the previous two district titles — a straight-set win over Plymouth-Whitemarsh last year to follow up a 3-1 win over Great Valley in 2015. Shanahan also finished runner-up to Upper Merion in 2014.

Bishop Shanahan’s Renee Shultz sets up a teammate during Wednesday’s game against Perkiomen Valley. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

“We try and keep a winning mentality with us day-in and day-out,” said Ashman. “We’re prepared for games like this on this level, mentally. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”

The Eagles won the opening set 25-14 Wednesday night, benefitting from a 12-2 run midway through that featured three kills from senior outside-hitter Tess Elder. The Eagles then jumped out to a 13-2 lead early in the second set and survived a late push from Perk Valley to take a 25-20 win and then closed it out with a 25-17 win in the final set.

“They’re No. 1 in the district, No. 1 in the state for a reason,” said Perk Valley head coach Drew Scheeler of Shanahan. “They play great team defense — they don’t really have a weakness. At times we showed that we can hang with them, but it’s a consistency thing. Every play they’re on it.”

Perkiomen Valley’s Sarah Straub hits the ball over the net. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

Shanahan was consistent and mechanical any time the ball was in the air.

Senior outside-hitter Natalie Ogden had 12 kills, 21 digs and a pair of aces while junior libero Julie Gallagher had 18 digs and three aces. Senior setter Renee Shultz finished with 16 digs, 32 assists, three kills and an ace while Brooke Burns had 11 kills and 10 digs.

“We try and bring a lot of energy out here with us every night,” said Gallagher. “We’ve got a lot of pressure on us, especially being unbeaten this far on the season. We need to keep that out of our heads, though. We’ve got to respect every opponent we face.”

Although it finished out as a straight-set decision, Perk Valley proved to be a respectable opponent. The Vikings pushed back all throughout the night, though they simply didn’t have enough firepower to topple Shanahan.

Senior setter Ellie Min finished with 13 assists, 13 digs and two aces while senior outside-hitter Helena Clauhs had six kills and eight digs. Junior outside-hitter Sarah Straub had four kills.

Bishop Shanahan’s #12 Tess Elder and #15 Julia Thomas block a shot. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

With a state playoff berth — their first since 2015 — already under their belts, Scheeler has no doubt that his team will have no issue in bouncing back from the loss.

“We have great leadership — a great core group of juniors and seniors,” he said. “We’ve bounced back tough losses before. We bounced back when we lost in the PAC semifinals, when we lost to Spring-Ford in the regular season. This group is a resilient group. I’ll give them credit. We’ll be ready.”

And of course, Bishop Shanahan is ready to go for the three-peat.

Bishop Shanahan’s #15 Julia Thomas hits one over the net Wednesday. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

“It doesn’t really matter who we’re up against,” said Gallagher. “We’ve just got to go out there and play the way we know how to play.”

Surely, it’s no time for the Eagles to put their feet up and relax just yet.

Spring-Ford keeps state playoff hopes alive

The Spring-Ford girls volleyball team kept its PIAA Class 4A playoff hopes alive Wednesday night with a 3-1 win over Central Bucks West during the fifth-place playback round of the District One playoffs.

The No. 11-seeded Rams opened up with a 25-19 win, then followed it up with a 25-17 decision before falling 25-19 in the third set. Spring-Ford then closed it out with a 25-14 win in the fourth set to send No. 10 C.B. West home for good.

Carly Swenson finished with 32 assists, 12 digs and four kills while Alexis Palucki had 11 kills and seven blocks. Olivia Olsen had 15 kills and 15 digs while Grace Kraft finished with 26 digs.

As a result, Spring-Ford advances to the fifth-place play-in game where they’ll take on No. 8-seeded Garnet Valley — a 3-1 winner over West Chester Rustin — on Friday with a place in the state playoffs on the line.

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