SPRINGFIELD >> The Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team had a five-year state tournament-qualifying streak on the line at a raucous Mount St. Joseph gymnasium Monday night.
The Golden Panthers’ District 1 Class 3A semifinal match against the host Magic went back-and-forth for two exciting but tense hours. PJP trailed 14-11 in the fifth and deciding set.
It would have been easy to panic, but the Panthers’ Mary Kate Mooney was certain that wasn’t going to happen.
“Not for a single second did I doubt my team,” Mooney said. “I knew, somehow, we were going to pull out of it. I have complete and utter faith in my teammates.”
That faith was rewarded in a big way. PJP closed out the match with five points in a row to register a 3-2 win over the Magic and clinch a berth in Thursday’s district title match against top-seeded Merion Mercy (7 p.m. at Harriton), as well as a state playoff berth.
The Golden Panthers prevailed by scores of 25-18, 24-26, 22-25, 25-23 and 16-14.
This will be PJP’s sixth consecutive season in both the District 1 final and the state tournament.
“We have a lot of hard-working kids,” Pope John Paul coach Ryan Sell said. “I don’t think we do anything special. We teach the kids how to play the right way.
“I really like our culture. We had a nice group of seniors who led us last year, and we’re lucky two have two senior (leaders) right now.”
One of those seniors, Mooney led the way all night for the Golden Panthers (17-4). She finished with 20 kills and 21 digs. The other senior, Mary Bevenour, contributed 12 service points.
Junior Madeline Mulcahey and sophomore Julia Durand each had nine kills, and freshman Hanna Tulli chipped in with seven. Junior Maddie Lesinski had 27 assists and 17 digs. Junior Simone Sparano had 45 digs, and freshman Chelsea Harvey added 26 assists and 17 digs.
Mooney said that although so many players in the Golden Panthers’ rotation were new to varsity this season, it didn’t take long for the team to build chemistry on the court.
“It was surprisingly easy (to come together as a team),” Mooney said. “We all jelled right away, very quickly. Our two freshmen are insane – Hanna and Chelsea. They’re incredible. We’re so lucky to have them.”
It took maximum effort from all of the Golden Panthers, young and old, to slip past second-seeded Mount St. Joseph (16-6), which got 10 kills and 10 blocks from Ailene Woznicki, 17 kills from Cassidy Abdalla, 34 digs from Corinne Filograna and 19 digs from Maggie Fitzpatrick.
The Magic’s supreme effort would have been a victorious one on most nights, but they just couldn’t get that elusive match-clinching point at the finish.
“It’s no different if you’re up or down 14-11; you still have to work hard to get that one,” said Mount first-year head coach Amy Bergin. “Luck (was the difference). The ball would go our way; the ball would go their way. That’s volleyball for you.”
Bergin said she came into the season with extremely high expectations, and she was pleased with the effort and commitment she got from her players this year.
“When I first met with them last semester, I told them I already have very high expectations,” Bergin said.
“I also said, ‘I don’t lose; that’s not in my repertoire. I’m looking at a bunch of winners, and we will win. My goal right now, without even seeing you play, is we’re going to states. That’s my goal; jump on board if you want, or I’ll find somebody who will.’
“From Day 1 of the preseason, 6 a.m., they were all on board. Whatever I threw at them, God love them, they did it. The seniors could have made my life a nightmare, but they took everything I gave them, accepted it, ran with it and perfected it.”