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Bishop Shanahan downs Downingtown West, faces Parkland in state semifinals

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UPPER DUBLIN >> It’s deja vu all over again for the Bishop Shanahan girls’ volleyball team.

For the third year in a row, the District 1 4A champion Eagles will be facing District 11 champ Parkland in the state semifinals Nov. 13, thanks to Shanahan’s 3-0 sweep of Downingtown West Saturday in the PIAA 4A state quarterfinals at Upper Dublin High School.

The Eagles (22-1), who had beaten Downingtown West 3-0 during the regular season and in the District 1 4A tournament semifinals, were facing a Whippets’ squad that was in the PIAA state quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

“All week we talked about the fact that it doesn’t matter that we beat West twice this season,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “It’s really tough to beat a team three times in one season, particularly a good team like D-West that’s getting better and better every year. We can’t look past somebody, ever.”

While Shanahan swept to victories by scores of 25-16, 25-11 and 25-22, it didn’t come easy, particularly in Game 1, where the Whippets jumped out to a 14-11 lead.

“West has three really good players, three big hitters, in Hailey Lewis, Aly Reardon and Audrey Jones – I’ve seen them play against other teams, and I’ve seen them take over games,” said Ashman. “Lea Fillidore served really strong from the end line. D-West got us back on our heels a little bit, and we had to come out and prove we could play – I’m glad they tested us.”

Trailing 14-11, the Eagles ran off eight straight points and rolled to victory.

“We were really connecting with our centers today, and our passing was good,” said Shanahan middle blocker and co-captain Julia Thomas, who contributed four kills and six blocks Saturday. “We make sure that we all play together; it’s not about one person, it’s the whole entire team.

“We really tried to stay consistent today; if we were down for a little bit, we would come together as one. We made sure we stayed focused – at practice this week, we prepared for West the same way we prepare for any other team, even though we played them twice before.”

Shanahan libero/defensive specialist and co-captain Jules Gallagher said, “We stayed calm even though we got into a rut in the first game. We were very aggressive at the net today; I think that worked really well for us.”

Ashman said, “We kind of started off a little slow tonight, but then we got into our groove, got our flow going.”

Shanahan’s late momentum in Game 1 carried over into the second contest, in which the Eagles flew to an 11-1 lead.

In Game 3, D-West jumped out to a 9-6 lead, and was ahead 17-16 until a four-point run by Shanahan gave the Eagles the lead for good.

Chief contributors for Shanahan Saturday included Thomas, outside hitter Cara Schultz (four aces, 11 kills, 17 digs), middle blocker/outside hitter Michaela Devlin (five kills, two blocks) and outside hitter Brooke Burns (six kills, four aces).

Interestingly, Burns had come off the bench for a big performance (seven kills, seven digs) in the 3-1 win against Hempfield four days earlier, prompting Ashman after that win to comment about the Eagles’ depth.

“We have such depth on our team so that if any one of our players isn’t on their game, we have people who can jump up and step in and fill those roles,” said Ashman.

For Downingtown West, Saturday’s defeat was disappointing but marked the end of a memorable season.

“We got a great effort from our girls, we just ran into a buzz-saw in Shanahan,” said D-West head coach Dave Parrish. “When we did pass well, we could compete with them; when we didn’t pass well, we struggled. We just didn’t have the ball handling tonight that we needed.”

The Whippets were led Saturday by Juniata College-bound Aly Reardon (10 kills, three aces, seven digs), Audrey Jones (six kills), Quinnipiac University-bound Hailey Lewis (two aces), Lea Fillidore (eight digs) and Jenna Schuda (two aces, 10 assists).

“Our players really came together as a team this year, they truly loved each other,” said Parrish. “We had inexperience at a lot of positions and it took a while to get them to a higher level, but they enjoyed the time together, the camaraderie – they had a lot of cohesiveness as a team.”

Shanahan gets to stay together for at least a few more days as they prepare to face Parkland for the third consecutive time in the state semifinals. Parkland won the semifinal in 2016, and Shanahan returned the favor in 2017.

“We love playing Parkland,” said Thomas. “Their defense is really good, they’re a very scrappy team, which makes it hard to play against them, but we always manage to do our best against them.”

Gallagher said, “Parkland plays good, scrappy defense, so we can’t get frustrated, we have to play our game. They stay calm, they’ve got state playoff experience, but we’ve got that experience too, being in the state finals last year, so we need to use our confidence.”

Ashman said, “We saw Parkland twice this year at their tournament. I’m most impressed with their coaching, their discipline. They’re one of those programs, that, if they’re not in the state semifinals that season, something is wrong. They’ve got a couple of state championships under their belt. They’re used to being there at the end, and they peak at the right time – our girls just have to get ready to peak ourselves.”

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