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Pope John Paul II downs Merion Mercy for first district title since ‘14

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ROSEMONT>> Since the school’s inception in 2010, Pope John Paul II’s girls’ volleyball team has had a permanent reservation in the District 1-AAA finals.

But the past couple years, their trips to the title game went south, with the Panthers settling for second place.

That all changed Thursday night, as PJP emphatically claimed the program’s fourth district title — and first since 2014 — in a straight-set victory over Merion Mercy, 25-14, 25-20, 25-22.

Members of the Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team gather with the trophy after claiming the District 1-3A crown. (Digital First Media)

“For these kids, it’s really special,” confirmed PJP coach Ryan Sell. “After having to replace six starters (due to graduation), I don’t think many people were really giving us a chance. It goes to show what a team can accomplish with hard work.”

Earlier this year, Merion Mercy eked out a five-set victory over PJP, but it was clear from the outset that Thursday would be different. Senior co-captain Maggie Bevenour started the match with four consecutive service points as the Panthers built and maintained command over the opening stanza.

Toward the end of the first set, Merion Mercy lost junior Nicole Nowlan to injury, a setback that proved difficult to overcome with only 11 players on the roster. PJP survived a second set plagued with errors and service faults from both sides, then built another lead in the third set and clinched the title on a kill from their other senior co-captain, Mary Kate Mooney.

Members of the Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team celebrate with the trophy after winning the District One Class 3A title. (Michael Reeves – For Digital First Media)

Maddie Mulcahey led the way for the Panthers with 10 kills. Simone Sparano and Mooney combined for 44 digs (Sparano 26, Mooney 18) and Bevenour added 10 service points in a true team effort.

“I say all the time, it’s great to have the depth we have, where we have confidence in all 19 players on our roster,” added Sell. “The margins between some of the players are very small.”

“We always work hard on our service game, that’s what we want to be known for as a team,” said Bevenour. “That’s where everything starts.”

“Coach always tells us passing and serving are the two most important things, if you can’t pass or serve, nothing else is really going to matter,” added Mooney.

Merion Mercy, as the district runner-up, will take on District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic in the first round of states Tuesday. PJP will battle District 12’s third-seeded Cardinal O’Hara on Tuesday at a location still to be determined.

Pope John Paul II’s Hanna Tull blocks a shot by Merion Mercy’s Sophie Kennedy. (Michael Reeves – Digital First Media)

“They had a little more experience, they were a little better prepared,” lamented Merion Mercy coach Jolyn Aldaya. “We need to continue working together and improving in our execution.”

For Mooney and Bevenour, the only two seniors on the PJP roster, the losses in the 2015 and 2016 district title games were motivating factors in attaining the accomplishment that Mooney identified as the team’s goal earlier this season — the district title. She’s ready to amend that statement now.

“I definitely think we can take this further in states,” she predicted. “It’s going to be a great experience.

“But since my freshman year, winning the district title has been a goal for me and for our team. So no matter what happens going forward, this is a highlight of my senior year, to be wearing this medal with a ‘1’ instead of a ‘2’.”

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