O’Hara proves its point in advancing to quarters

PHILADELPHIA >> As he spoke to his players, Cardinal O’Hara coach Bill Collins clutched a clipboard littered with motivational messages like, “In it to win it,” and “Let’s go.”

No doubt, these were the ink scribblings of his team’s scorekeeper. But the coach maintained a similar decree.

“You’re one of eight teams left in the entire state,” Collins told his players, “and that means something special.”

Only minutes earlier Cardinal O’Hara had dispatched Great Valley, 3-2, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament to earn the program’s second state-playoff victory and its first since 2009.

Behind 106 digs collectively, O’Hara took down the Patriots, 25-16, 14-25, 25-18, 15-25, 15-10, at High School of the Future. In the process, the Lions (20-5) moved on to face District 11 winner Parkland, a 3-1 winner over Perkiomen Valley. Parkland, the reigning state champion, also happens to be ranked 20th nationally by MaxPreps.

“They’re probably the best team we will have faced all season,” said junior outside hitter Erin Daly, who had nine kills and 22 digs.

Added junior outside hitter Charlee Borcky: “We saw Parkland in the beginning of the season, on a play day, so we’ve at least seen them. We’re just going to work hard in practice and see what happens.”

To reach the quarterfinals for only the second time in school history, Cardinal O’Hara had to overcome a Great Valley team unwilling to wilt under pressure. It seemed as though momentum had tilted in the Lions’ favor, after Collins’ team won the third game, but Great Valley coasted to a convincing win in Game 4.

“We knew we were facing a challenge, and we’re the kind of team that, when we’re up against it, we’re not going to run away from it,” said Great Valley coach Sam Ellis.

In the fifth game, O’Hara picked up the first four points, watched as the Patriots rallied back to win the next six, and then rolled back in front, 11-8, on the strength of solid net play, good communication, and heavy-handed kills. The Lions never looked back, either. Gabby Napoleon, O’Hara’s lone senior, contributed one of her nine kills in the final game, and Maddie Noble delivered the game-clinching hit.

And with that, the Lions’ bench erupted.

“A lot of people say we have an easy road to states because of who we play in districts,” said Daly, whose team has won five consecutive District 12 Class AAA crowns. “Now we can show them how far our hard work can take us.”

“I know they had a little something extra tonight,” Collins said. “They’ve always been told that they have an easy road to states, and I think they had something to prove tonight. I mean it. I think this was one of our best total performances of the season.”

Among the Lions’ contributors, Kristen “Kiki” Daly had 12 kills and 15 digs, Borcky racked up nine kills, 17 digs, and two service aces, and Meghan MacWilliams — who hurt her shoulder earlier in the match — gutted out a team-best 36 assists.

“Total team effort. Just incredible,” the coach said.

Before Saturday’s state quarterfinal, it’ll be back to the drawing board for Collins. Or that motivational clipboard he’s got.

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