UPPER DUBLIN >> Being the top-ranked girls volleyball team in Pennsylvania puts a bull’s-eye on Bishop Shanahan, giving extra motivation to each of its opponents.
That’s OK with the Eagles’ Tess Elder, though.
“There’s definitely a target on our back,” the Shanahan senior said. “Everyone wants to beat us, to take out the team that’s first in the state.
“But I think we just try to stay humble and play our Shanahan volleyball and not really worry about labels. We really just take one game at a time.”
The Eagles have been ranked No. 1 in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll since the preseason. Earlier this week, MaxPreps.com raised them to No. 10 in its national rankings.
Saturday night, they demonstrated why people in the know hold them in such high regard.
Top-seeded Shanahan faced a formidable challenge from second-seeded Upper Merion, the No. 4 team in the PVCA rankings, in the District 1 Class 4A title match at Upper Dublin. The Eagles, however, made surprisingly quick work of the Vikings in a 3-0 victory.
Game scores were 25-11, 25-8, 25-17.
The district crown was the Eagles’ third in a row and sixth overall.
“Thursday, we took the day off from practice and sat and watched (Upper Merion) film all day long,” Shanahan coach Greg Ashman said. “I made them do scouting reports so they can learn.
“This is one of the most intelligent teams I’ve had at Shanahan, and it shows. They did their own scouting reports. I collected them and told them it was a test. I picked them back up, looked at them, handed them back and said, ‘You’re studying them. It’s a test this Saturday.’
“I think they just got an ‘A’.”
Shanahan (22-0) still stands at the head of the class as it prepares to open play in the PIAA tournament Tuesday against District 11 runner-up Nazareth. The Eagles will enter as the favorite to capture their second state title in program history, and their first since 2009.
Upper Merion (22-2) also advanced to the state tournament and will play Tuesday against District 3 runner-up Exeter Township. This will be the Vikings’ first PIAA tournament appearance since 2014, although both Shanahan and UM will each be in the state playoffs for the 11th time overall.
“It happens sometimes,” Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said of Shanahan’s domination Saturday night. “It doesn’t usually happen in the district final.
“They came out quickly and we never recovered. They were all over us in the first game and all over us the second game. We just couldn’t sustain it in the third game. We couldn’t stay with them. They were just playing so great.
“Volleyball is a game of errors. We made them, and they didn’t make many.”
Elder said Shanahan’s scouting report showed that Upper Merion’s strength was its outside hitting. The Eagles’ middle blockers neutralized that aspect of the Vikings’ game with their size advantage. Shanahan has six players on its roster that are 6 feet or taller, compared to none for the Vikings.
“(The Eagles were unstoppable) for us, playing as well as they were and serving as well as they were, because we’re not a big team,” Funsten said. “With a great setter getting the ball to the hitters, you’ve got to be able to put up a little bit better blocking. We can’t help that; we’re just not a big team and our blockers are younger.
“We just couldn’t slow them down in any way, shape or form. We’d get a couple of digs, but then they’d just come back and the next (hit) was just better than the one before.”
Upper Merion got 10 kills and 18 digs from senior Emma Andraka and 22 assists from Kelly Moore. Junior Tori Wright finished with seven kills, including the 1,000th of her career.
Shanahan took the first two sets easily, but Upper Merion fought particularly hard in the third to try to make a match of it. Three straight kills by Wright gave the Vikings a 13-11 lead. Shanahan, however, battled back to take a 15-14 lead that it never relinquished.
“We just played a really good game,” Shanahan senior Natalie Ogden said. “We were just so excited. We brought our energy up a lot and kept that energy for the whole match. It was just so much fun.
“Every game, we keep getting better, and we’re trying to go up (to a higher level) and keep getting better each game.”
Elder contributed 11 kills, 10 digs and two blocks for Shanahan. Senior setter Renee Shultz had three kills, 15 digs and 29 assists. Junior Julie Gallagher had 23 digs, and impressive freshman Brooke Burns had six kills, two aces and two blocks for the Eagles.
As Shanahan maintains the No. 1 state ranking and possibly moves up in the national rankings, Ashman said he believes his team has not peaked yet. The Eagles, he added, also have plenty of motivation.
“Last year, on the back of our warmup jerseys, we had a big, giant bull’s-eye,” Ashman said. “This year, I kid them that there isn’t a shirt big enough to put as big of a bull’s-eye as we have on it.
“Being the No. 1-ranked team all season long makes you play with that on your back. But, on the back of our shirts this year, it says, ‘Redemption Tour.’ So we’re playing with a chip on our shoulders because we dropped that (state semifinal) match (to Parkland) last year.
“They remember it day in and day out. They’re reminded of it all the time and they want nothing more than to take that state title.”
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