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Bishop Shanahan falls in final to defending state champ North Allegheny

Mechanicsburg >> A few minutes after Bishop Shanahan lost to defending state champ North Allegheny 3-0 in the PIAA 4A state championship finals Saturday evening, Eagles’ head coach Greg Ashman spoke of the character of his never-say-die squad.

“The character of this team is unbelievable – their will to win, to get better,” said Ashman. “You run into a lot of kids these days who feel like they’re entitled – these kids are not entitled, they want to get better. They have such respect for the game, respect for their opponents, respect for their teammates, respect for their coaches – I’m really proud of them.”

For North Allegheny (23-0), it was their fifth PIAA state title and the second year in a row in which they finished undefeated. The Tigers, who won 25-15, 25-23 and 25-20 Saturday evening at Cumberland Valley High School, featured all-around talent that was able to neutralize Shanahan’s front line, which had been so effective against Parkland in the state semifinal four days earlier.

“Shanahan can bring some heat, they have some girls who can bang the ball,” said North Allegheny head coach Heidi Miller. “But the thing I liked about our team tonight was, they didn’t let that faze them. We knew we had to play good defense, and tonight was truly a team effort.”

Shanahan occasionally brought the heat Saturday evening. In the first set, after North Allegheny bolted out to an early 10-2 lead, Shanahan battled back, getting several kills from junior outside hitter Cara Shultz (11 kills, 12 digs) and senior middle blocker Michaela Devlin (11 kills, three blocks) to cut the Tigers lead.

After North Allegheny prevailed for a 25-15 win in the first set, Shanahan bounced back in the second set, which turned out to be a nip-and-tuck affair featuring many long volleys. The Tigers held a slight lead most of the way, but a late run by the Eagles gave Shanahan a 19-17 lead.

Leading the way for the Eagles was Shultz, Devlin, senior setter Alexa Burns (17 assists, six digs), senior middle blocker Julia Thomas (seven blocks, two kills) and senior Julie Salvadore (three kills, two blocks).

North Allegheny followed up with some fine play at the net, built a 24-21 lead, then after a last-gasp effort by Shanahan cut the margin to 24-23, the Tigers prevailed on a long back-and-forth volley to finally win, 25-23, and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.

“I’m proud of the effort our kids gave tonight,” said Ashman. “We played well, but North Allegheny just outplayed us. Hats off to our seniors and the way they played tonight and this season – especially Jules Gallagher, Alexa Burns, Michaela Devlin, Alysa Wright, Julie Salvadore, Julia Thomas, all of them played phenomenal. I’m going to miss them – this is one of my favorite classes of seniors. Every year you love your seniors, but this class of seniors had something special.”

The Eagles, trailing 2-0 in the best-of-five series, fell behind North Allegheny 6-1 in the third set. But, again, they didn’t give up, and took a brief 12-11 lead later in the set before the Tigers won six of the next seven points to take a 17-13 lead. Shanahan got no closer than three points the rest of the way in a 25-20 loss.

Miller said, “We knew it was going to be a long match tonight – one that we would have to fight through and finish. We kept the pedal to the metal tonight. We’ve been prone to some lulls throughout the year where we let up a little bit and start making some unforced errors, but tonight I could not be more proud of the girls, the way they focused.”

 “North Allegheny is as good as, or better, than they were last year,” said Ashman. “I think we’re better than we were last year, too – at least we gave them a run for their money today. You start shutting down one of their kids, they go to someone else – they’re kind of like us – you shut down one of our kids, we go somewhere else too. Hats off to North Allegheny – they’re a well-coached program, and their kids are phenomenal.”

This is the third year in a row Shanahan made the Final Four (and the second consecutive year they made the finals). And to get to the finals this year, they swept District 11 Parkland in the state semifinal, 3-0. It’s been a memorable run for this group of Shanahan seniors.

Senior co-captain Julia Thomas, who will be heading to Iona College next fall to play volleyball, said, “Tonight we put all of our best efforts in; unfortunately, it just wasn’t our night, North Allegheny played well. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to this group. The past four years have been great. The friendships we made on this team are something we could have never imagined.”

Shanahan senior co-captain Jules Gallagher, who will be playing for American University next fall, said, “Our team does not quit – I think our team is the toughest team out there. North Allegheny is a tough team, and we tested them a little tonight and they pushed it out.

“I respect North Allegheny so much – they’re the most talented team I’ve ever played – but I’ve loved this team more than I’ve ever loved any team I’ve played with. Before the game I teared up, and after the game it was tough – I never want to leave them, I’m going to come back to see them when I’m in college.”

Ashman said, “After the game, I told our kids how proud I am of them. It really hurts for the seniors, since this was their last match. For our younger kids on the court tonight, and the ones who weren’t on the court tonight, the future is bright for us. We’ll be back here hopefully next year.”





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