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Bishop Shanahan fighting through injury, illness to sit one step away from state final

The quest at Bishop Shanahan to capture the program’s first state volleyball crown since 2009 faces another serious hurdle on Tuesday at Exeter High School. The unbeaten Eagles take on powerhouse Parkland at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals of the PIAA 4A Championship.

“If we can minimize our mistakes and force (Parkland) to create a few more, I think it will go our way,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “But if they can do the same to us, it’s going to be real tough.”

The two-time defending District 1 champs, the 24-0 Eagles are the odds-on favorites to capture the state title, but a rash of injuries and illnesses could jeopardize it all. All-State hitter Cara Shultz has missed most of the season with a stress fracture, and setter Ceandra Ashman has missed lots of action with migraine headaches.

And then, on Nov. 6th, starting outside hitter Natalie Ogden suffered an ankle injury and is also out. Needless to say, Shanahan’s depth has been severely tested.

“It certainly has,” Ashman agreed. “We decided to keep extra kids (on the roster) this season because we have seven seniors and we need to be ready for next year, and also in case of injuries. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t one of those teams that only has 12 players, and the next thing you know you have to put a 5-foot-4 kid in the front row because we have nobody else.

“I told the kids at the beginning of the season that we are fielding two teams this year and it’s going to be the two best teams in the state – the starters and the team that practices against them every day.”

That approach has worked so far. When Shultz was sidelined back in early September, freshman Brooke Burns filled in nicely. And Shultz’s older sister, Renee, has taken over the setting duties and has developed into one of the state’s best. And since Ogden went down, others have also picked up the slack.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries, and we’re hoping that the people that have been stepping up and filling those roles can continue to do so,” Ashman said. “Luckily, Kailey Smith has stepped into (Ogden’s) role — along with Mia Caporelli — and has played phenomenal.”

The District 11 champion, Parkland (19-4 overall) faced Shanahan twice during the regular season and the Eagles prevailed both times — first in the finals of the Garden Spot Tournament and later in the semifinals of the Parkland Invitational. But a year ago, Parkland topped Shanahan in the PIAA semis, also held at Exeter.

“(Parkland has) knocked us out three or four times in the last six-seven years,” Ashman pointed out. “They come to play, they know what it takes to win at this time of the year and they are extremely well coached.”

The winner will play the Garnet Valley-North Allegheny winner for the state crown on Nov. 18th at Richland High School in Johnstown.

The Eagles are the only unbeaten team in the field, but they’ve been tested throughout the postseason. Shanahan’s been pushed to four sets on three occasions: by the defending state champs from Garnet Valley in district action; by District 11 runner-up Nazareth in round one of states; and most recently in the quarterfinals by District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll.

“It’s tough playing with a big bulls-eye on your back,” Ashman acknowledged. “Everybody seems to bring their best against us, and in the playoffs we are facing much stiffer competition.”

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