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Bishop Shanahan prevails against host Unionville in District 1 4A girls volleyball semifinal

East Marlborough >> Every time the Unionville and Bishop Shanahan girls’ volleyball teams square off, it’s a close, hard-fought match, and Tuesday’s PIAA District 1 4A semifinal between these two teams didn’t disappoint.

After splitting the first two sets, the two squads battled to a 23-23 tie in the third set before Shanahan nailed the next two points for a 25-23 win. Then, the fourth set was tied 16-16 before the Eagles went on a late roll for a 25-20 win.

Shanahan’s 3-1 win puts them into the District 1 4A championship final against Council Rock North Thursday.

“We wanted to make sure that our kids were loose and that the pressure was on the other side; that’s how we beat [Unionville] the first time [a 3-2 Shanahan win on Oct. 7],” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “Our kids never lost their composure the entire time. We got a little shaky at times in that second set, but we never lost our composure. We didn’t have to prove anything to anybody – as long as we stayed calm and had fun, that’s what we tried to do, and we remained that way all the way through.”

Shanahan senior outside middle blocker/outside hitter Maddie Rudolph, who had 10 kills Tuesday, said, “I think the key for us down the stretch tonight was to stay calm and be loose, and we had some serious fun out there.”

Bishop Shanahan won the District 1 4A title every year from 2016 to 2019, and captured the District 1 3A crown in 2015. Unionville won the District 1 4A title last year.

“We want the district title back,” said Ashman. It had been ours for five years.”

Last year, in the District 1 4A semifinal, Unionville beat Shanahan, 3-2. The Eagles dropped the first two sets before coming back strong, then losing the fifth set by a razor-thin 18-16 score.

“Every time we play them, it’s a battle – if you look at the last five matches against them, they’ve all been the same top-notch battles,” said Ashman.

Unionville (19-2) features some strong hitters who displayed their talents Tuesday, including Maddy Lowe (12 kills), Genna Weeber (10 kills), Emily Harper (9 kills) and Jillian Murphy (6 kills).

Shanahan senior outside hitter Coco Shultz, who had 11 kills of her own Tuesday, said, “We knew it was going to be a really tight matchup and Unionville has such a great offense, we knew how great their attack is, with hitters like Genna Weeber and Emily Harper. We knew we had to put up a good block and put up a good defense behind it.”

Rudolph said, “We knew that Unionville has amazing hitters – we play with them in club volleyball – and they’re going to get their kills, but we can bounce back right away. We have to make sure that we’re in our right spots, we have to press on our blocks, make sure the blockers are in the correct position.

“Last time we played Unionville, we really focused on our serving, and that’s what won us the game the last time we played them [a 3-2 win Oct. 7], so we focused on it again today.”

Shanahan picked up 12 points on senior Delaney Dwyer’s serves, and 10 points on freshman libero Maddie Metcalf’s serves. Senior Allison Monaco had three aces.

“We were trying to serve aggressively, because Unionville passes so well and is so solid,” said Shultz.

“We knew we had to win from the end line,” said Ashman. “When we played them the first time we served very, very well, we put pressure on them and kept them out of their offense. If we do that, we can beat a lot of teams that way. Delaney Dwyer’s serves were great. Laura Brozey stepped in and had never served a point all season long, and had a run of 4-5 points. It’s just ice water going through these kids’ veins. You would never know that Maddie Metcalf is a freshman – she’s so calm and reads the game so well and has no fear whatsoever.”

In the first set Tuesday, Shanahan came out of the gate on fire, scoring the first five points, but Unionville gradually caught up and tied the score at 10-10. The match went back-and-forth until a Lowe kill gave Unionville a late 19-18 lead.

Shanahan closed out the first set on a 7-1 run, with Rudolph and Shultz finishing the final two points for a 25-20 win.

The second set was another close battle, with Unionville gaining a small edge down the stretch. With the Longhorns leading 24-23, Weeber’s kill iced  Unionville’s 25-23 win.

Shultz said, “After the second set, we got into a huddle together and decided that we wanted to win this so much, and we said that we were going to turn the tide right here. We knew they would get their big momentum swings, but we knew we had to bounce back and in those key moments come together as a team.”

The third set was a close battle all the way to the finish. With the score tied 23-23, Shanahan earned the next two points, the final one on a hard hit by Shultz that Unionville returned out of bounds.

Shanahan (18-3) took a 9-5 lead in the fourth set, but Unionvile battled back to tie the score at 16-16. A late run by the Eagles nailed down the 25-20 win, highlighted by a couple of kills from the left side by Shultz and some long volleys that the Eagles prevailed on.

“I think the key for us was trying to minimize our own mistakes on our side of the court – making serves, making smart swings instead of trying to kill the ball on every swing,” said Shultz.

Unionville, who like Shanahan will compete in the PIAA Class 4A state tournament, will host Downingtown West in the District 1 4A third-place game Thursday.

“Shanahan is a strong serving team, I’ve come to expect that from them,” said Unionville head coach Stephanie Smith. “It’s been something we’ve been working on, and I think we’ve responded fairly well. I think our serve-receive was pretty good today. We just weren’t able to get those big runs.”

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