Royersford >> Undefeated Bishop Shanahan, which has not lost a set in the 2019 PIAA girls’ volleyball post-season, swept into the PIAA 4A state final for the third consecutive year with a 3-0 win against District 11 champion Parkland in the PIAA 4A semifinal Tuesday at Spring-Ford High School.
In both 2017 and 2018, the Eagles lost to North Allegheny 3-0 in the PIAA 4A state finals. On Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School, the Eagles (24-0) will face North Allegheny (22-1) once again in the 4A state final. Will the third time be the charm for Bishop Shanahan?
“I don’t care who we’re playing, I want to win the state final – badly,” smilingly said Shanhan standout senior Cara Shultz following the Eagles’ win Tuesday night, and before the North Allegheny-Hempfield semifinal was decided (the Tigers won 3-1). “We’ve got three days to practice until Saturday, and when Saturday comes, it will be all-out.”
As usual, Shultz led the Eagles Tuesday with her power hitting (18 kills) and all-around fine play (eight digs, two aces) as Shanahan prevailed by scores of 25-20, 25-14 and 25-21.
But Shultz wasn’t the only Shanahan standout on the Spring-Ford court Tuesday night.
Shanahan senior defensive specialist Grace Casagrande dove to the floor for many a ball Tuesday, and wound up the evening with 17 digs against a Parkland team that was making its sixth consecutive appearance in the state semifinals.
“Grace played very, very well tonight,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “She’s capable of doing that all the time, and we got her on the court tonight more than normal – we knew that was a key to getting the victory tonight, put Grace on the court as much as possible – she’s in that libero jersey for a reason.”
Casagrande said, “We knew Parkland was really strong, but we just played our game, we really worked on our middles [junior Bridgette Kelly and sophomore Maddie Rudolph] to get them running. I’m really excited to be going to the state finals; it’s kind of surreal, doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening right now, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m excited for Saturday.”
In the first set, Shanahan trailed 4-3, then scored five straight points, highlighted by a couple of kills by Shultz and well as one by Kelly to take the lead for good. The rest of the first set, Shanahan’s lead was small but definite, as digs from Casagrande helped set up some potent hits from junior outside hitter Brooke Burns (eight kills) and sophomore outside hitter Coco Shultz (seven kills). Cara Shultz delivered the final point (as she did in all three sets) for a 25-20 win.
In the second set, Shanahan held a slender 8-6 lead, but then went off on a 13-3 run which started on a couple of well-placed shots by Burns. The Eagles soared to a 25-14 win.
“We play as a family,” said Burns. “Grace was amazing out there, she played one of her best games out there tonight, I think. Our serving was strong [in the second set], when Maddy [Kempski] started serving.”
Kempski, a senior defensive specialist, said, “We [all] were doing really well with serving in the second set, we were serving them aggressively, keeping the ball in play.”
Senior setter Mia Caporellie recorded five aces, and Kempski chipped in with one as well.
“Our serving was really good tonight,” said Ashman. “Maddy Kempski, Mia, Cara, Brooke, Coco all had some good serves. We really worked on our serving this week, and it was nice to see that it paid off.”
Strong serving gave the Eagles a quick 7-2 lead in the third set, and Shanahan held the lead the rest of the way, with Cara Shultz firing the final point, a well-placed strike into the heart of the Trojans’ court to cap a 25-21 victory.
Kempski said, “When the final set was over, and we knew we were going to the state final, it was an indescribable feeling, the craziest feeling ever. I can’t even explain it, it’s amazing.”
Shanahan’s defense also played a key role in the Eagles’ victory Tuesday. Caporellie recorded 14 digs, Kempski and Burns each came up with seven, and outside hitter Coco Shultz recorded eight more.
Cara Shultz said, “Parkland had some really talented people up front, we couldn’t overlook that, but we just focused on our block, focused on our defense around that, and went from there. Our defense played well – Grace [Casagrande] is very graceful, and she absolutely tries her hardest on every point. It’s the same with everyone else on our team – Maddy (who was standing next to Shultz) hustles for everything, I mean, it’s do or die out there (smiles).”
Another key for Shanahan against Parkland was ball distribution, as Caporellie dished out 33 assists.
“We wanted to move the ball around against Parkland,” said Ashman. “We knew they were going to key on Cara, so we wanted to get other people involved. We watched Parkland on film a few times, and we knew what they were able to do as far as their block was concerned. We knew how to take advantage of it, and for the most part, we did. They got us a couple of times, but good teams are going to do that.”
Shanahan now prepares for North Allegheny, who the Eagles will face Saturday at 6 p.m. at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg. It will be the fourth and final game of the day at Cumberland Valley, preceded by the state finals for Class 1A (10:30 a.m.), 2A (1 p.m.) and 3A (3:30 p.m.).
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