DOWNINGTOWN – Downingtown West volleyball coach Dave Parrish knew that if his team had trouble returning serves against top-seeded Bishop Shanahan, that Tuesday’s District 1 4A Semifinal would not go well. And, boy, was he ever correct.
The host Eagles wound up registering 13 aces, but just as important was 21 other serves that could not be returned by the Whippets. It all added up to a dominant 3-0 victory that propels Bishop Shanahan into the district final.
“We work every day in practice on the serve,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “It’s the one skill in this sport that you control 100 percent. A lot of coaches take it lightly, but you can control the game from the service line. It’s a primary skill, we treat it that way, and it shows.”
Think about it: the Eagles won 25-15, 25-11, 25-13, and of their 75 points, 44 came before the ball was ever returned.
“Against a team like (Shanahan) you have to get past serve receive,” Parrish said. “If you if don’t, you are in for a long night. That’s exactly what happened.
“(Shanahan) has some very good servers. They move the ball around at different speeds and different locations, and we just didn’t pass well.”
Now 19-1 overall, Shanahan will face third-seeded Garnet Valley in the final on Thursday at Harriton. The Eagles are the three-time defending District 1 champs, and all that stands between them and number four is the Jaguars, a team that Shanahan topped 3-0 earlier this month.
“I’d like to say it’s unprecedented, but a few years back Merion Mercy (won four straight) at the 2A level,” Ashman said. “We want to be the ones to do it at the highest level. Before last year, nobody’s ever won more than two in a row. So we were the first to do it three in a row at the highest level of play.
“We are in unchartered territory. We want to be the first.”
Downingtown West falls to 15-6 overall, but has already earned a spot in the PIAA Tournament. The 12th-seeded Whippets will travel to No. 2 Upper Merion for third place on Thursday. His team just ran into a buzzsaw on Tuesday.
“(Shanahan has) won the districts and, certainly, Ches-Monts for many, many years,” Parrish said. “They are the top of the totem pole and they are the ones that everybody is trying to go out and match up against.
“But that’s difficult because they have a lot of talent.”
Leading the way is All-Stater Cara Shultz, who scored 15 points from the service line. Employing one of the state’s most devastating top-spin jump serves, the junior broke open each of the first two sets.
“We’ve always been taught to serve aggressively,” said Shultz, who added six aces, six kills and nine digs. “To get on good serving runs like that is very important.”
The first set was tied four times early, but the Eagles went on a 6-0 run with Shultz serving, which turned a 5-5 deadlock to an 11-5 lead. Similarly, in set two, the lead ballooned from 8-5 to 17-5 after Shultz went on a 9-0 run that included four serves that were not returned.
“The opponent doesn’t know where it is going, but half the time, I don’t know either,” said senior libero Julie Gallagher. “But it’s something special that our team has that I don’t think any other team has.”
It is so special, that the Shanahan student section is now routinely yelling ‘Boom!’ every time Shultz serves.
“It’s fun and it’s funny. Sometimes, I’m trying not to laugh. But I really enjoy it,” Shultz said.
“Cara works hard on it every day and wants to get feedback,” Ashman added. “She is willing to make the changes she needs to make, like working on contact, placement on the court — those kinds of things.
“She just wants to be the best at everything she does.”
It looked like the Whippets were poised to go deep into the third set, and it was 9-8 midway. But that’s when senior setter Alexa Burns stepped to the service line and reeled off nine straight points to end the drama, including three aces.
“They had some 7-8 point runs and once you get that separation it’s difficult to recover,” Parrish said.
In addition to the serving, the Eagles also fared well at the net, with 6-foot-1 senior Alysa Wright and 6-1 Michaela Devlin leading the way.
“Our blocking was really good tonight,” Ashman said. “Alysa Wright and Michaela Devlin were both really good. Their form was great. Those two kind of separate our team from others. Not too many teams have two 6-foot right side players.
“With the strong serving, we can kind of dictate where the ball is going, and with that we know where to set the block. That plays into our strengths.”
Gallagher finished with 17 digs, Bridgette Kelly added three blocks and Julia Thomas chipped in five blocks. Ally Reardon paced West with seven kills and 10 digs.
Shanahan has now topped Ches-Mont rivals Great Valley, West Chester Rustin and West so far in district action. But Garnet Valley is a Central League power that won the state title a couple years ago.
“When we saw the bracket, we said it’s the Ches-Mont championship,” Ashman said. “Every team we’ve played so far has been from the Ches-Mont. It’s good and bad. The good is we played them all and beat them all. The bad is that they all know what they are up against.”
The Jaguars are also pretty familiar with the Eagles. But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.
“Four is our new number now,” Gallagher said.
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