CHELTENHAM — The defining moment of Pope John Paul II’s 3-0 victory over Cardinal O’Hara in the opening round of the PIAA Class 3A volleyball tournament came early Tuesday.
Three times the District 12 champion Lions had set point in the opening set at Bishop McDevitt High School and could not put the Golden Panthers away.
“One of the things we’ve preached all year is closing out games when we have the chance,” O’Hara coach Bill Collins said. “It’s been a bit of an issue for us this year, but didn’t hurt us against teams that weren’t as good as this. This time it hurt us.”
District 1 runnerup PJPII rallied from a 24-22 deficit to take the first set, 29-27, then won 25-22 and 25-20 to advance to a quarterfinal showdown with District 3 champion West York, a 3-0 winner over District 2 titlist Nanticoke.
And the key for the Golden Panthers was its defense and passing. The defense kept the ball in play and the passing allowed PJP to get the ball to sophomore setter Chelsea Harvey, who then set the attack in motion.
Harvey finished with 23 assists and spread the wealth nicely. Junior outside hitter Sarah Ward had 10 kills for the Golden Panthers (14-6). Junior middle blocker/outside hitter Hanna Tulli had seven kills and junior outside hitter Hailey Spotts finished with five kills.
“The key is to find the hitter who’s on and get her the ball and it usually only takes a few swings to figure that out,” Harvey said. “The thing is we’re blessed because we have a bunch of really good hitters.”
“We started passing the ball better and that made things a little easier for Chelsea,” Pope John Paul II coach Ryan Sell said. “She was able to get the ball to the hot hitters.”
Once the passing game came around, the Golden Panthers took control. O’Hara (24-3) only had the lead three times in the final two sets, and both were early. The Lions led 1-0 and 2-1 in the second set and 1-0 in the final set.
It didn’t help that the Lions committed 18 passing errors and 10 service errors, according to Collins.
“That’s 28 points,” Collins said. “That’s a set plus. In a close match like this, it’s a killer. We saw them a couple of times and nothing they did surprised me at all. When I say this wasn’t our best effort, it wasn’t for want or desire. It was about execution. We just didn’t execute.”
The Lions put up a fight, however. The second set was tied, 20-20, before the Golden Panthers ran off five of the final seven points. O’Hara was within 22-19 before kills from Tulli and Spotts sandwiched around a hitting error by the Lions sealed the deal.
“We came out strong in the beginning and then we just let it go,” O’Hara senior Maeve Boylan said. “We couldn’t get our block going and their defense was good. We couldn’t find spots to get points.
Boylan led the Lions with 13 assists, 12 digs and two kills. Lauren Garvey had 15 digs and 12 kills. Reagan Hickey finished with nine kills and six digs and Isa Kirchner contributed five blocks.
“It’s disappointing, but we got to the Catholic League championship and won the District 12 championship, which we didn’t do last year,” Collins said. “If you had told me at the beginning o the year that we would go 24-3, make the Catholic League final, win the District championship, make the state tournament and our only losses would be three tough, close matches? I would have signed up for that. I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat.”
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