QUAKERTOWN >> Bishop Shanahan stood tall in the Eagles’ 3-0 victory against District 11 champion Parkland in the PIAA 4A state semifinal Tuesday evening at Quakertown High School.
“We knew our front line was going to have to be big tonight,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “Alysa [Wright], Michaela [Devlin], JT [Julia Thomas], Bridgette [Kelly], they all stepped up big-time tonight.”
Another big contributor was junior outside hitter Cara Shultz (13 kills, 11 digs, six blocks), who missed last season with an injury.
“Cara’s on a mission; she’s out to prove that she’s going to make people pay for her missing last year,” said Ashman, with a laugh. “She wants everyone to see how good of a player she is; she’s a fantastic player to coach – she’s always working in practice to get better. She sees the game at a level that most people can’t see at her age.”
Going into Tuesday’s contest, Shanahan players had noted the challenge of Parkland’s strong defense.
“Parkland has a good defense, and I told our hitters, ‘We’re going to have to be patient, take two or three swings before we get a kill,’ said Ashman. “And luckily we were able to stop them at the net before we had to take a bunch of swings, so we did really well with that.”
And now that Shanahan (23-1) has defeated Parkland in the state semifinals (as they did last year), the Eagles will face defending state champion North Allegheny Saturday, in a rematch of the 2017 PIAA 4A state final.
“We’re really excited, we just can’t wait to play them again,” said Wright, who produced eight kills and four blocks Tuesday.
“We’ve been waiting for this game for a while,” said Shanahan libero/defensive specialist and co-captain Jules Gallagher, who came up with 19 digs Tuesday.
Schulz said, “I was injured last year and didn’t play in that state final; I know the rest of our team is super excited to play North Allegheny; I’m also excited to play them because I know we want that state championship this year.”
But in order to get to the state final, Shanahan had to defeat District 11 champion Parkland Tuesday. And in Game 1, the Eagles got off to a slow start, falling behind 7-3. But Shanahan didn’t panic.
“We really focused on controlling our side of the net, making sure we weren’t just taking swings,” said Gallagher. “We were looking at the court, paying attention to our defense. The key tonight was playing together as a team, picking each other up no matter how down we were. We stayed confident in ourselves.”
Ashman said, “We’ve been down before in games this season – I think the most we’ve been down in a game that we won was 11 points – but we know that we have enough of a team that we can come back, whether it be through a big block, or a serving run, or something like that, that we can come back, no matter how far down we are.”
Gradually, the Eagles came back in Game 1, and took their first lead of the night at 15-14. Late in Game 1, Shanahan took a small -but permanent – lead, and pulled out a 25-23 win.
“I think our key tonight was to make sure we stayed focused,” said senior middle blocker and co-captain Julia Thomas, who will be headed for Iona College next fall. “Parkland is a very scrappy team, so we couldn’t get frustrated when they were digging our hits, we had to stay smart.”
In the second game, Shanahan roared out to a 9-1 lead on the way to a 25-12 win, then zoomed to a 10-2 lead in Game 3 for a 25-20 victory, with Shultz’s kill putting an exclamation point on the clinching win.
“I was shocked that this went three sets – the last two seasons we played them it went five, so I was anticipating five this time,” said Ashman. “We prepared all week for a long, long match against Parkland – they’re too good of a team for a three-set match to happen to. After the first game, I told the girls to be prepared for a long match, that it’s going to go a long, long way.”
Leading the Eagles’ flight to victory was Shultz (13 kills, 11 digs, six blocks), with plenty of help from Wright (eight kills, four blocks), Thomas (three kills, seven blocks), Devlin (four blocks, four kills), Kelly (three kills, eight blocks), Gallagher (19 digs) and junior Mia Caporellie (five digs, three aces).
Wright, a senior middle blocker who is headed for Bryant University, noted, “We were able to get a lot of blocks tonight because we were setting them up right. We definitely played as a team tonight.”
Shultz said, “Our passing was a little rough early, but then we straightened it out, and our serving was consistently tough – we did a good job with that. Our blocks and our defense tonight were just spectacular.”
Although Ashman was anticipating a long, tough match Tuesday, he also told the Eagles before the contest to “go out and have fun.”
Ashman said, “Before the game, we tried to send the message to our kids to go out and have fun, because when they have fun, they’re unbelievable – they’re so much fun to watch when they’re having fun.”
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