EXETER >> If one word could aptly describe Bishop Shanahan’s 2017 volleyball season, it would be redemption. And on Tuesday in the PIAA semifinals, the Eagles continued their season long theme with the ultimate redemptive effort by edging District 11 powerhouse Parkland, 3-2, to advance to the Class 4A final.
It’s important to note that Shanahan lost to the Trojans a year ago in the semifinals and on the same court at Exeter Township High School.
“This was the match we’ve been waiting for all season,” said Eagles’ head coach Greg Ashman.
“We wanted this one so bad because it was the same opponent and same place,” echoed junior middle blocker Julia Thomas.
After dubbing the season the “Redemption Tour 2017,” Shanahan edged Parkland 25-22, 20-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11 to improve to 25-0. The three-time defending District 1 champs will take on District 7 champion North Allegheny in the state title match on Saturday at Richland High School in Johnstown.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, but it will,” said Ashman, who guided the Eagles to the state crown in 2009.
“We were hoping to get right back here, and I am so happy we were able to get it done,” said senior Renee Shultz. “Same place, same opponent, same round of the playoffs — it was déjà vu.
“But we aren’t done yet. This this is what (Redemption Tour) was all about.”
Between two of the state’s best programs, it was no surprise the match came down to a winner-take-all fifth game. Shanahan trailed 2-0 but with Shultz serving, the Eagles reeled off six points in a row, and never trailed again. Thomas had a block and a kill on the final two points as Shanahan prevailed 15-11.
“We knew what we had to do, we executed nicely, and powered through,” said Thomas, who finished with 15 kills and six blocks.
“We talked about going out and stepping on them fast,” added Shultz, who had 24 digs and 36 assists on the evening. “We played with the determination that we needed.”
Deadlocked at 1-1, game three was a turning point. It featured six early ties and several long rallies. But Shanahan outscored the Trojans 13-7 to end it, with Thomas delivering several big blocks and kills, and teammate Alysa Wright adding two late kills to finish it off, 25-20.
Facing elimination, Parkland (19-5 overall) played with urgency and reeled off 11 straight points in game four to take a commanding 13-2 lead, and the Eagles never recovered.
“I kind of threw the dice hoping to get a certain matchup in the fourth, and we didn’t get it,” Ashman explained. “So we had to substitute for (junior) Michaela Devlin. She wasn’t feeling well (Tuesday) night, but she went in and did what we needed her to do.”
Devlin is just the latest in a long line of injuries and illnesses which have sidelined starters Cara Shultz (stress fracture), Ceandra Ashman (migraines) and Natalie Ogden (ankle). But Shanahan has never allowed any misfortune to alter its goals.
“We have an amazing team chemistry that no one can break, and when we are on, nobody can stop us,” Thomas said.
“Every team faces challenges and ours always seems to be injuries,” added Renee Shultz. “But we are making the most of what we have and an amazing bunch of girls.”
Frequently plagued by slow starts, Shanahan reversed that trend in game one, scoring the first seven points off Shultz’s service. The middle block was so effective it forced Parkland to take an early timeout. The Trojans fought back — thanks to an 18-9 rally — to cut it to 21-20, but the Eagles called a timeout, and then held. Thomas and Kailey Smith had big kills to help close it out.
“We talked beforehand about jumping on them fast,” Ashman said. “We knew they would come back. Parkland is so scrappy defensively, we k new we would have to work very hard to get kills.”
Parkland never trailed in game two after opening a 6-2 lead. Shanahan fought back to cut the deficit to two on five occasions, but never got any closer.
Julie Gallagher added 29 digs and Wright chipped in seven kills and three blocks for the Eagles.
“The top of our warm-up shirts say ‘Redemption Tour’ and the bottom says ‘We’re on a Mission from God,’” Ashman pointed out. “There is a higher being controlling what is going on and its pushing us to the brink and throwing us curve balls left and right. But we are finding ways to get through it.”
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