Shorthanded Lansdale Catholic falls to Pope John Paul II in PIAA AA 1st round

PHILADELPHIA — Knocking off Pope John Paul II was a tough challenge on its own for the Lansdale Catholic girls volleyball team.

But coming into the Community College of Philadelphia’s gym Tuesday afternoon without senior Chase Wassel — out due to an illness according to LC coach Joann Pisch — made beating the Golden Panthers in their the PIAA Class AA first-round match just too tall of a task.

Senior Kaitlyn Kushman and Lansdale Catholic made the District 1 champions work hard, but a late lead in Game 2 slipped away from the Crusaders and from there they could not avoid a season-ending 3-0 (25-15, 25-23, 25-18) loss.

“When you come to a state playoff game without one of your six rotation starting players, an All-Catholic player, it’s a tough void to fill,’ Pisch said. “I’m proud of the way they battled. We had a practice to get it together and I think they put out the best effort they could today.’

Kushman finished with 12 kills, five assists, three digs and a pair of aces, while Ego Onu had six kills and 10 blocks for the Philadelphia Catholic League and District 12 champion Lansdale Catholic, which was looking to beat PJP II in states for a second straight year.

“We were ready to go out there and play. We didn’t have Chase today, so we were all like, ‘ We’re doing it for Chase,” Kushman said. “We fought hard. We knew they were beatable, but, you know what, it happens. I feel pretty happy with how our season went and we got as far as we can.’

Instead of resembling the Crusaders’ 3-1 state quarterfinal win over PJP II in 2013, this year’s first-round matchup mirrored the sweep the Golden Panthers earned at LC on Oct. 13.

In last month’s non-league match, Pope John Paul II rallied from a 22-20 hole to claim Game 2 25-22, while Tuesday it erased a 23-20 LC lead by again collecting five straight points.

“I feel good even if we’re late in the set and its close and/or tied, I like our chances. I think we can serve well,’ Golden Panthers coach Ryan Sell said.

Pope John Paul II advances to the state quarters for the second straight season to face District 11 champ Bethlehem Catholic Saturday at a site and place to be announced. Becahi knocked off defending Class AA state champ Delone Catholic 3-1 Tuesday at Nazareth High School.

While Lansdale Catholic’s season is complete, it was still another strong campaign for the Crusaders. LC went undefeated in winning a third-straight PCL crown while also picking up a fourth-straight District 12 title.

“This team just continued to improve every single week and that’s what I’m most proud of,’ Pisch said. “I think some teams come out strong and stay about the same level, but our team came out one way and we finished the season another way. And how can you not be proud of that, so I am.’

Kushman — who will play at Division I Central Connecticut State next year — could not keep her scholastic career going despite her all-around efforts, but the senior is proud of her and LC’s accomplishments during the past few seasons.

“I came into Lansdale Catholic my sophomore year and I’ve been very proud of where I am today. I’m very grateful (of) they girls I’ve had in the past years and stuff,’ she said. “It was just really fun and it’s really hard leaving this year, but I know I’ll be off doing better things but I’ll come back and visit.’

Pope John Paul II pulled away for an easy 25-15 win in Game 1, but LC had a great chance to even things up in the second. Down 15-13, LC ran off five straight points — the last two thanks to Kushman — to lead 18-15.

“We gave up runs, here-and-there, especially that second set when Kushman ran off five or six points at the beginning. She was serving tough,’ Sell said. “We just got to control that a little bit better, it doesn’t have to be perfect. We just go to control it.’

The Golden Panthers quickly tied the game 18-18, but after the teams traded the next two points a PJP long serve and hitting error put LC up 21-19. An Onu block had the Crusaders’ lead at 23-20.

Pope John Paul, however, rallied to tie at 23 with a Nicole Dorman ace giving the District 1 champs the 24-23 lead. LC could not return Dorman’s next serve as the Golden Panthers went up 2-0 in the match.

“I could tell that our faces were down. No one was up,’ Kushman said. “There was energy. I was trying to tell everyone ‘ Come on, you got this.’ Just didn’t step it up.’

Pope John Paul II appeared it might cruise to Game 3 win when LC had to call an early time out after giving up the first five points. The Crusaders, however, bounced back the tie the Golden Panthers twice, the last time at 10-all before PJP took firm control with a 9-1 run to lead 19-11.

Lansdale Catholic got within 19-15, but the Golden Panthers collected six of the final nine points to secure the sweep.

In Game 1, the Crusaders held some early advantages — the last at 6-5 before a three-point run put PJP ahead for good. The Golden Panthers used a 5-0 run to go up 19-11 as they eventually won the opener 25-15.

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