FAIRVIEW VILLAGE >> In their run to the District 1 title, Pope John Paul II’s volleyball team made a habit of taking things to the limit.
“Playing five sets… it’s kind of our thing,” joked captain Mary Kate Mooney.
Head coach Ryan Sell wasn’t so sure. “I think we’ve played five sets more this season than we did in my first six years combined,” he said. “Luckily, it seems to bother me more than the kids.”
It doesn’t seem to bother the players at all. Tuesday night, the Panthers outlasted District 12’s third-place finisher, Cardinal O’Hara, using all five sets to win 24-17, 22-25, 22-25, 25-22, 15-9 in a classic.
PJP advances to Saturday’s quarters against West York (District 3), a straight-set victor over District 2’s Greater Nanticoke Tuesday. The Panthers certainly will be no strangers to roller-coaster type contests, as evidenced by their coach’s postgame quotes.
“Emotionally, we were up early…. then we were down in the second set. The third set was a little bit of each,” he summarized.
It wasn’t until the fourth set, with the Panthers down 19-14 and 2-1 in sets that Sell decided to call attention to the uneven play. “We were running out of time,” he said.
The Panthers fought their way back with their typical balanced approach. Mooney led the team with 16 kills, with Simone Sparano contributing 26 digs. Freshman Chelsea Harvey and junior Mikaela Monroe tied for the team lead in service points with 11 apiece.
After completing the fourth-set comeback, the Panthers took control in the tie-breaking fifth, opening up a 12-3 lead and holding on late; the game ending on a kill from Mooney.
Mooney said she hopes the early scare will benefit PJP moving forward in the state tournament. “It definitely toughens us up, shows that we need to pick up our energy earlier,” she said.
The Lions were led by first-team All-Catholic League player Breanna Hickey, who had 19 kills and five aces. For O’Hara, their season ends at a record of 18-6, but coach Bill Collins says he’ll remember the team’s fight and determination for a long time.
“I get emotional just talking about these seniors. I think this was the most passion, the most intensity we’ve shown all year tonight.
“This year’s team really brought back the love of the game for me.”
Moving into the quarterfinals, Coach Sell acknowledges the growth and toughness shown by his team, but says there are points of improvement that will be critical moving forward.
“We showed toughness, we didn’t get frustrated,” he said, “but maybe we got a little comfortable after that first set. We know we can play at a high level – what we need to be is a little more consistent.”
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