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All-Delco Volleyball: Shaak’s choices lead to Notre Dame hardware, N.C. State

Academy of Notre Dame's Riley Shaak is the Daily Times Volleyball Player of the Year. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

RADNOR — Notre Dame senior Riley Shaak made two decisions that altered the course of her young life.

The first came with the help of her family when she decided to transfer to Notre Dame from St. Anastasia School following the sixth grade.

“I felt like I needed a change from St. Anastasia,” Shaak said. “My brother (Mike) went to Malvern Prep the same year I came here. It was either here or Villa Maria, and I just loved the sisterhood at Notre Dame. It was just a great fit.”

The other change concerned her athletic career.

Notre Dame’s Riley Shaak returns a shot in a match against Merion Mercy. Shaak diversified her game this year, to great results for the Irish. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

Being 6-2 and from a basketball family, one would naturally assume that hoops was Shaak’s favorite sport growing up. That isn’t far from the truth; she did love the game.

Shaak, though, had another athletic passion, volleyball. And the summer following her freshman year at Notre Dame, Shaak knew something had to give. She had just finished playing AAU basketball for the Comets and club volleyball for East Coast Power and was physically drained. The Newtown Square resident knew she could not continue to play both sports.

“I had to sit down and decide what I loved more,” Shaak said.

After much thought, she chose volleyball.

“I just love volleyball,” Shaak said. “I played basketball my whole life, and volleyball is a different type of fun for me. It’s just exciting, all the time. Every point is just so positive, and you need a whole team. To me, volleyball is much more of a team sport than basketball because I feel like in basketball one person can lead the team. In volleyball, you need passers, setters and hitters to all work together to have success.”

The move worked out just as much for Shaak as it did for Notre Dame. Shaak helped the Irish win three Inter-Ac League titles and four PAISAA crowns. The Irish won their final 12 matches this season, including a pair of victories over Inter-Ac rival Germantown Academy to stretch their streak of independent schools titles to seven. Shaak became the first player in program history to record 1,000 kills (1,067).

The accolades were impressive, too. Shaak earned first-team all-league honors three times and, as a senior, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Shaak also earned Under Armour Honorable Mention All-America laurels from the American Volleyball Coaches Association, one of just three players from Pennsylvania and the only one from the Philadelphia area to receive the national recognition.

Shaak now adds another honor to her impressive resume. She is the 2019 Daily Times Player of the Year.

Joining Shaak on the first team are Notre Dame teammate Maddie Donaphon, Paige Monastero and Meghan McCann of Archbishop Carroll, Bridget McGuinn from Cardinal O’Hara, Samantha Mann from Garnet Valley and Marple Newtown’s Hannah Roberts.

Shaak, Monestero and McCann are repeat selections. The All-Delco team is selected by the Daily Times sports staff after consultation with county coaches.

READ: All-Delco Volleyball: Monastero, McCann led Carroll to fourth straight Catholic League crown

“I’m so glad I came to Notre Dame,” Shaak said. “My mom (Diane) said it was the best decision we ever made.”

Shaak was used primarily as a middle blocker and outside hitter during her first two years with the Irish. Occasionally she got to serve, but never played in the back row. That changed in her junior year when head coach Mike Sheridan began using Shaak as a six-rotation player.

It was an eye-opening experience.

“It’s hard work, No. 1,” Shaak said. “No. 2, you have to be in shape. You go from the front row where you have to transition from hitting the ball to blocking and then go to the back row where you’re chasing the balls, so it’s a lot of work. The first time I played in the back row I was scared to death. I was like, how do these people do this?”

Playing in the back row gave Shaak a greater appreciation for the work of the libero and defensive specialists. It also helped her improve her all-around skills and gave her more confidence as a player.

“Before playing six rotations at Notre Dame, I did not feel confident in the back row at all because middles are told, ‘You’re never going to pass. You’re never going to serve,’” Shaak said “I wasn’t allowed to pass a lot of the time because we’re told that you’re never going to get the opportunity so just focus on the stuff in the front row. That’s kind of degrading.”

READ: The full list of All-Delco volleyball honorees

With the help of her coaches at Notre Dame and East Coast Power, Shaak developed into one of the most dominant players in the area and a Division I signee. She picked North Carolina State over offers from Duke, Virginia, Miami and Villanova.

“It just felt like the perfect fit,” Shaak said. “When I toured Duke, I liked it, but it was a little too academic for me. I don’t think I would have been able to keep up there. Miami was a little too far. Villanova was a little too close. I went (to N.C. State) and it was strangely perfect. I felt like, right. It was a weird feeling.”

Shaak reports to N.C. State June 24 and she cannot wait for the next chapter of her life to get started.

“It’s a little earlier than I expected, but I’m really excited,” she said. “I can’t wait to get down there.”

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