ROYERSFORD >> Pope John Paul II’s volleyball season started too late for the Golden Panthers to contend for the Pioneer Athletic Conference title.
Despite an unblemished record and their victory over PAC champion Boyertown, going into Thursday night the Golden Panthers had no hardware to show for their 2020 efforts.
That’s no longer a concern after a straight-set victory (25-21, 25-19, and 25-21) over Mount St. Joseph’s gave PJP its third District 1 Class 3A title in the past four years.
With Thursday’s win, the Golden Panthers showed their resilience during a season of delays, interruptions, and a period of time where they were afraid they wouldn’t play at all.
“We wish we had more time, get some more games in,” said head coach Ryan Sell, “but we were lucky enough to play strong teams in Perkiomen Valley and Boyertown before the playoffs.”
— Rob Senior (@RSenior31) November 6, 2020
With the third and final set knotted at 16, Lexi McMonagle reeled off three straight service points to give PJP the lead for good. Throughout the match, Mount St. Joseph sent double blocks at PJP’s front line of Chelsea Harvey, Hanna Tulli, Bella Ricevuto, and Heather Lesinski, making the Golden Panthers work for each kill. PJP countered with pinpoint passing and surprise returns that often caught the Magic off-guard.
“We look at their block, and figure out what to run off of that,” explained Harvey, whose 35 assists set up just about all of PJP’s front-line kills. “I make the decision based off the block, the pass. … When the blocker jumps with me, I know we’ll have a one-on-one in the middle.”
Tulli led the Golden Panthers with 11 kills, as Lesinski and Ricevuto added seven apiece.
Down 24-14 in the opening set, the Magic reeled off seven consecutive points before PJP forced a wide return to draw first blood. The Golden Panthers twice ran off five consecutive points of their own to build the ultimately insurmountable advantage.
But the Mount’s momentum helped them build an early second-set lead before PJP rallied behind the serving of Tulli and the tenacity of Lesinski and Ricevuto at the net. Most Mount rallies were one-and-done, while PJP reeled off 2-3 point runs at a time that gradually erased the lead and ultimately saw the Golden Panthers build a commanding 2-0 lead in games.
The victorious Golden Panthers (10-0) will enjoy a week-plus break before resuming competition in the PIAA 3A quarterfinals Nov. 14 against either the District 11 or District 12 champions.
Mount St. Joseph’s moved to a mark of 10-2, and will continue their season in non-PIAA competition. Their frustration against the Golden Panthers — their foils in the previous two District title matchups — continued.
“This is always a good game with PJP — and we more or less were able to do what we wanted,” said Magic coach Amy Bergin.
“In the end, I think it came down to history — sometimes you get that ‘here we go again’ feeling.”
For the past several years, that state quarterfinal round has been PJP’s kryptonite. Losses to Central York and Garden Spot have ended previous state championship runs, but Sell believes the 2020 squad could be the one to break through.
“The key will be consistency,” Sell said. “It starts on the outside, and continues with our passing. But more than anything, it’s mental, overcoming that hurdle.”
“It’s about our desire to win,” Harvey concluded. “Everyone is here early every day, we all love to play the game and we’re absolutely determined to get to that state championship.”
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