Shanahan proves to be no treat as Strath Haven falls

NETHER PROVIDENCE — Strath Haven students packed the gym Tuesday night for the Panthers’ District One Class AAA volleyball quarterfinal match with Bishop Shanahan. One fan dressed as Big Bird, another wore a wrestling leotard. Two students waved American flags, while a third sported an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and a sailor’s hat. Presumably, he was the captain.

It had the feel of Halloween three days before the holiday, but the only treat Strath Haven wanted was a victory and a PIAA Tournament berth. The Panthers, fans and all, would be left disappointed.

No. 5 seed Bishop Shanahan beat No. 4 Strath Haven, 3-1. The Eagles rallied for three straight wins after the Panthers easily took the first set 25-19. Sophomore Bree Fisher was dominant for Strath Haven.

“They’re very strong at the net,’ Shanahan coach Greg Ashman said of his opponent. “Fisher hurt us in Game 1. We couldn’t get the matchup we wanted.’

Fisher finished with 18 kills, most of them coming in the opening two games. Strath Haven closed with an 8-3 run to grab the early advantage.

“We were ready,’ Panthers senior Ellie Steif said. “We came out ready and strong. We had a lot of adrenaline.’

Shanahan, however, answered and answered quickly. The Eagles ran off an 11-4 lead in the second game on their way to a 25-19 victory.

“Shanahan has great coaches,’ Strath Haven coach Kevin Haney said. “They made all the right adjustments. They didn’t panic.’

The visitors continued to pile it on in Game 3. Chloe Kleespies led the attack with 18 kills, while Renee Shultz contributed 20 assists. Shultz’s performance is indicative of Shanahan’s as a whole. She’s a freshman forced into a starring role on a battered team. The Eagles lost two starters, one before the season, another during Monday’s practice, prior to the clash with the Panthers.

“We’ve been battling injuries all year,’ Ashman said. “We have so many injuries, their resiliency is unbelievable.’

Ashman’s players take after their coach, who wears a tropical flavored shirt and sandals to every game.

The look started out as a tribute.

“My late grandfather gave me my first Hawaiian shirt before he passed,’ Ashman said. It’s since become his signature appearance.

The beach-like feel of the sideline gives out a cool under pressure vibe. Shanahan held an 11-2 advantage in the fourth and final game only to see Strath Haven tie things at 14. The Eagles (17-4) responded well to the adversity. They claimed 11 of the next 15 points to earn a 25-18 win and the state berth, their third straight.

“You have to give them credit,’ said Steif, who finished with 24 assists. “They’re an amazing team and so fun to play against. Sometimes the point doesn’t go your way.’

Steif is one of two seniors, along with Kara Pell, who played regularly for the Panthers. But the group of upperclassmen keyed Strath Haven’s success even if it didn’t always appear on the scoreboard.

“We have a lot of seniors that show up and make us better, every game, every practice,’ Haney said. “They’re profound leaders and give us a spark. There’s no way we win 20 games without them.’

Steif looks to continue her career at the next level. St. Lawrence Universtiy, Wheaton College, Union College, and Ithaca College are in the mix for her services. Strath Haven (20-6), though, was still on her mind.

“They’re the best people in the world. There’s no one else I’d want to share my career with,’ Steif said of her Panthers teammates. “It’s a big group of best friends.’

Fisher leads a strong returning core alongside Rachel Vresilovic and Maura Gibbs (15 digs).

“We’ve been so fortunate to play with the girls we played with,’ Fisher said. “We learned so much from them. We’ll come back better.’

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