WORCESTER >> If Bishop Shanahan’s undefeated, nationally ranked volleyball team doesn’t already know it has a target on its back, coach Greg Ashman is always right there to remind them.
“We talk about it at practice all the time,” Ashman said after Tuesday night’s opening-round victory over Nazareth. “Every team is going to play their best game against us.”
After the 25-14, 25-17, 21-25, 25-17 decision, the next “best shot” will come from District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll — an opponent quite familiar to the Eagles.
“We’ve seen them three times already this year,” said Ashman, “so we’re familiar with them. It’s hard to beat a team four times, but that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Early on, it appeared the Eagles might cruise to the quarterfinals, as they dominated the first set and seized control of the second almost as quickly. But the third set saw an amazing seesaw battle where the two teams alternated points from 5-5 to 18-18, before Nazareth went on a stanza-deciding 5-0 run to extend the match.
For a while, it looked like the momentum had shifted, but with the fourth set knotted at 14, Shanahan ripped off eight of the next 10 points en route to ending Nazareth’s campaign at 19-8.
Kelly Austin and Maria Harding combined for 27 kills in the losing effort for Nazareth.
“Overall, I’m very proud of our team,” said Nazareth coach John Pursel. “It’s been a battle every time we stepped in the gym and tonight was certainly no different. At no point were we going to give up — and hopefully we represented ourselves well.”
Ashman and the Eagles certainly thought so.
“They play in a loaded league up there in the Lehigh Valley,” he said. “We knew tonight wasn’t going to be easy.”
It would’ve been significantly harder if not for senior Kailey Smith, who stepped in for injured outside hitter Natalie Ogden (sprained ankle) to the tune of 12 kills and four digs. Freshman Brooke Burns added 10 kills, an ace and 14 digs, while Tess Elder contributed 11 kills and five blocks.
“Whether I’m on the court or not, it’s important to stay involved, stay supportive. When it’s your turn, you’re ready to go. And I’m ready to put it all on the line,” said Smith.
It’s a good thing, because each of Shanahan’s opponents promises to do the same. The Eagles certainly aren’t backing down or shying away from such a challenge.
“Obviously you want to take it one game at a time,” Smith summarized, “but our ultimate goal is to win states. It’s been our goal for four years.”
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