By Jake Oswalt
RICHLAND TOWNSHIP >> Bishop Shanahan spent most of the year as the aggressor dictating play throughout its undefeated 25-0 season. The Eagles were riding high after defeating the third, fourth, and fifth-ranked teams in the state to continue its quest for the school’s first state title since 2009.
However, the tables were turned on No. 1 ranked Bishop Shanahan on Saturday evening in the PIAA Class 4A championship game at Richland High School in suburban Johnstown. District 7 champ and No. 2 ranked North Allegheny showcased a determined defense to go along with a dominant performance from its middle hitters to win a matchup of unbeaten teams by a 25-21, 25-12, 25-16 score.
“I can definitely say that they were the better team tonight. I was really impressed with how they played,” Bishop Shanahan senior setter Renee Shultz complimented North Allegheny (24-0). “They were strong.
“We fought, but I do think we could have played better. With the way things worked out, we just didn’t bring enough tonight. But I’m still proud of what we did and what we accomplished.”
After nine ties ensued in the first set, North Allegheny was able to progressively take more control of the match as the night progressed. The Tigers feasted on uncharacteristic mistakes from Bishop Shanahan.
“We had too many mistakes,” Bishop Shanahan coach Greg Ashman said. “We talked about it before we came out here. We said the team who makes more mistakes isn’t going to win tonight. We were that team unfortunately. We haven’t had a match like that where we made that many mistakes.
“They’re a great team. They forced us into a lot of uncomfortable situations.”
Middle hitters Kayla Dinkins, a Tulane signee, and Anna Sprys combined for 16 kills and six blocks for North Allegheny, who won its fourth state title and first since 1994.
“Number 32, she was absolutely insane,” Bishop Shanahan senior Tess Elder said of Dinkins, who had a profound impact on the game with six blocks while altering the Eagles’ offensive attack. “She would shut us down and it made it difficult to dig ourselves out of the hole that we were in.”
The night began looking as if a long match was going to be in the cards. After nine ties and three lead changes, the biggest lead was only three points. North Allegheny changed the trend with four straight points to break a 16-all tie. Dinkins provided a kill and two blocks during the key run. Kills from Avery Tuman and Sprys later pushed the lead to five before a Shanahan service error ended the first set at 25-21.
Bishop Shanahan overcame an early deficit in the second set thanks to a 4-0 run with Julie Gallagher serving. A Gallagher ace and two Tigers hitting errors gave the Eagles a 6-4 lead. Shanahan took its final lead of the set at 9-8. From there, it was all North Allegheny as they went on a colossal 12-1 run to lead 20-10.
“Our kids have played well all year, this was hands down the best they’ve played,” North Allegheny coach Heidi Miller said. “When we pass, we’re very hard to stop. But we struggled at times to be a good blocking team. We blocked very well tonight.”
A kill and block from Dinkins ended the set with NA prevailing, 25-12.
Four straight points allowed North Allegheny to take a 6-3 early lead, one they would not relinquish. With Shanahan’s defense fixated on slowing down Dinkins, other North Allegheny hitters capitalized on one-on-one matchups. Mika Logan led NA with nine kills.
“It was really tough from a blocking standpoint because I think that we were so worried about blocking 32 (Dinkins), that we would hesitate and their setter was so quick and we were late on the other blocks,” Elder said.
Shanahan was able to pull within 15-11 midway through the third on a Brooke Burns ace, but NA closed on a 10-5 surge to win gold.
Gallaher and Shultz (14 assists) led Shanahan with 15 and 13 digs, respectively. Elder and Kailey Smith both had four kills.
After the disappointing loss, the Eagles held their heads high once they reflected on a season filled with overcoming injuries to advance one step farther than last year.
“I just thought it was a really good experience to have. I just thought our whole season was amazing. We can’t let this one game define us,” Shanahan junior Julia Thomas said.