Royersford >> As the clock counted down until the start of the third set, the Pope John Paul II Panthers were buzzing with excitement.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference champions were a set away from closing out their 3-0 sweep of the Philadelphia Public League champion Academy of Palumbo and advancing to the second round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs Tuesday night at Spring-Ford High School.
“Having fun is really important to us. Our energy is really what keeps us alive,” said middle hitter Hanna Tulli. “If we do not have a lot of energy I do not think the team could come together and have such good chemistry. We all get along really well and that brings out the best in all of us and helps us succeed.”
“The more fun we’re having, the looser we are and it definitely helps us to play better,” added junior Chelsea Harvey. “It’s so important to get each other hype and keep each other up when someone makes a mistake. We have to let them know that we support each other and always have each other’s backs.”
The Panthers won the match in set scores of 25-9, 25-14, and 25-7 while rotating in the entire roster over the course of play.
“I think we have a lot of good kids, and that helps,” said coach Ryan Sell. “We can kind of mix everybody up. Starters, non-starters whatever. I feel comfortable with everybody playing. We have a lot of really nice kids. Our senior group is really good. They are super responsible, and they keep everybody on task.”
Those seamless personnel transitions were accredited to experience and constant communication on and off the floor.
“If we cannot let each other know what we are going to run then it is not going to help our offense. The back needs to communicate so we can pull through and get the points to finish out the rallies,” said Tulli. “At practice we really give it our all and communication is the most important thing. We have each other’s backs and that’s a key element for us.”
Since dropping a late-September match to Downingtown East, PJP has gone on a 10-game winning streak. During that stretch the Panthers only lost one set en route to PAC and District 1-3A titles.
“The success has meant a lot. Last year we did not win the PAC or the district so we have to be appreciative of this year and keep going for states,” Tulli added.
With a schedule that included multiple 20-plus win teams, the Panthers have built an impressive 23-1-1 record while only losing more than one set in a single game.
“It’s the work that we put in during practice,” said Coach Sell. “We like to have a lot of fun during practice and keep the energy level high … Villa challenged us, and the Mount was good. Sometimes it is tough when we are serving a lot, but we try to stay disciplined on what we do. We cannot lose focus on our own stuff and sometimes we do, but they are kids and they are going to do that. I thought our last two matches were pretty good teams… We were getting beat 21-24 by the Mount and same with Villa and we came back on won that one. We have had challenging matches.”
The Panthers will advance to play District 3 runner-up Garden Spot (19-3) in the second round of the PIAA playoffs on Saturday, November 9th.
“We’re looking forward to playing some solid volleyball on our end. We don’t care who is on the other side we just want to play consistent and disciplined volleyball,” said Coach Sell.
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