West Grove >> District 1 4A girls’ volleyball champion Bishop Shanahan, pushed several times to the brink of elimination Saturday by a never-say-die Garnet Valley squad, earned a hard-fought 3-2 win in the PIAA 4A state quarterfinals at Avon Grove High School.
The Central League champion Jaguars won the opening set against the Eagles, 26-24, overcoming a 24-21 deficit, and captured the second set 25-20 to go up 2-0.
With its backs to the wall, Shanahan trailed 15-8 in the third set. The Eagles briefly rallied, but twice were on the brink of elimination, trailing Garnet Valley 24-22 in the third set and 24-23 in the fourth set. Both times, Shanahan rallied for victories (29-27 and 26-24), then captured the deciding fifth set, 15-10.
Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman said, “Thank God for our senior leadership out there, they held it together. They could have packed it in at any point in time, and said our season’s over, but they don’t want the season to end. The will of a senior is something that is really, really tough to beat, and we had the will of the senior today. Now we live on for another game.”
Shanahan (21-3) will face District 11 champion Parkland in the PIAA 4A state semifinal Tuesday.
One of the leading Shanahan seniors, outside hitter Maddie Rudolph, who contributed 28 kills, three blocks and three aces to the win Saturday, said, “We have eight seniors, we’re eight close girls, and it would have been heartbreaking for our season to end today. After the first two sets, I think we started to realize that this could be our last set of the season. Halfway through the third set [trailing 15-8], we were like, ‘OK guys it’s now or never, we have to get going now. Garnet Valley is a great team, a great blocking team, but we’re just as good and we need to push through and finish this game.’
“When Garnet Valley had 24 points in both the third and fourth sets, I think that was the most stressful game experience I’ve had in my entire life. Until the fifth set I was pretty much on edge, and I think the key was keeping our composure, which I think we did a decent job of, and we pulled through in the end.”
In the back-and-forth first set, neither team had more than a three-point lead, but late in the contest Shanahan built a 24-21 lead, thanks in part to some strong hitting from senior outside hitter Coco Shultz (who finished with 21 kills Saturday).
The Jaguars, with their backs to the wall in the opening set, came up with five straight points, thanks in part to some solid serving by junior setter Madison Wood and strong hitting by senior middle hitter Katelyn Dugery, to come away with a 26-24 win.
“They were stealing a part of our hearts at that time,” said Ashman. “We knew that Garnet Valley is a great team, and hats off to Clarkie [Garnet Valley head coach Mark Clark] for scouting us like he did, he knew our holes and he tried to expose them, and in the first two sets I think he really did that.”
In the second set, the match was tied 14-14 then the Jaguars built a small lead and kept it the rest of the way for a 25-20 win.
“There was a lot of movement today, a lot of long volleys, and that’s the way we try to play,” said Clark. “Our defense played great today – Rachel Sokalsky, Leah Ellis, Maddie Snelgrove and Steph May.”
The Jaguars were providing plenty of offense up front too, led by junior outside hitter Klaira Zakarian (16 kills), outside hitter Mary Pearl Trenabeso (11 kills), senior middle hitter Katelyn Dugery (10 kills), junior right side hitter Kelly St. Germain (10 kills) and junior middle hitter Sarah Weins (five kills, three blocks), who was sidelined during the state tourney opener with an ankle injury.
Wood, who dished out 50 assists Saturday (and served four aces), said, “This was an emotional game, it was do or die, it hurts to lose but I’m proud of how far this team has come. We’re going to have some good returning players next year, and I think there’s going to be a lot of fire [on this team], especially from this game.”
The Jaguars built a 15-8 lead in the third set before Shanahan went on a 4-0 run. Garnet Valley maintained the lead and held a 24-22 advantage, one point away from ending the match. But Shanahan tied the score at 24-24, then the lead went back and forth. With the Eagles leading 28-27, a Rudolph smash sealed the deal for Shanahan in a hard-earned 29-27 win.
“We really had to show our grit today,” said a smiling Shultz, who also came up with 20 digs as well as 21 kills.
“Coco played out of her mind on defense today,” said Ashman. “Both teams today played great defense. Garnet Valley, the way they play defense, they should be winning [today] too – but it’s tough when we match up here.”
Another key Eagle defender Saturday was freshman libero Maddie Metcalf (13 digs, 3 aces).
“It’s unbelievable what Maddie sees, and what she does with the ball is amazing,” said Ashman. She’s flying all over the court, not letting balls drop.”
In the closely-fought fourth set, the game was tied 23-23 when a Shanahan return went out of bounds, giving the Jaguars another shot at clinching the match. But a Shultz kill tied it at 24-24.
“When Garnet Valley had 24 points and the lead in the third and fourth sets, I was definitely nervous,” said a laughing Shultz. “But I had to find my calm place, and we had to battle it through, point by point. We couldn’t look too ahead and we had to stay in the present, and focus on getting the next point, or getting the next pass, and putting up a hittable set, and then terminating the ball.”
A well-placed tip at the net by Shanahan senior Laura Brozey gave the Eagles a 25-24 lead that they did not relinquish in the 26-24 win. Brozey finished the day with eight blocks.
“Laura had a great match today,” said Ashman. “She can block really, really well and take care of any outside hitter we face.”
Devlin said, “When Garnet had 24 points [in the third and fourth sets] we were a little anxious but we knew to keep our calm, just relax and play the game, and it worked out.”
Shanahan senior Julia Pagnotto chipped in with four blocks and Devlin came up with two more.
In the fifth and deciding set, the Eagles roared out to a 9-3 lead, with Rudolph providing some key offense to spark the District 1 4A champions.
“In the huddle between the fourth and fifth sets, we really came together and decided that we weren’t going to let our own mistakes get in our way, that we were going to show our grit,” said Shultz.
“After we got a bit of a lead in the fifth set, I think we felt like, ‘Hey our confidence is back, let’s bring up the energy and finish this game, keep our season going,’” said Rudolph.
“In the fifth set, we found ourselves as a team,” said Brozey. “It was a feeling that came from our gut.”
Garnet Valley fought back, and a Zakarian kill completed a 7-2 run by the Jaguars that cut Shanahan’s lead to 11-10. The Jags got no closer, though, as the Eagles went on a four-point run, culminated by Maddie Metcalf’s ace, to win 15-10.
“It was a fantastic team effort on everybody’s part today,” said Ashman. “Our hitters struggled early to find [open] spots on the floor, then all of a sudden in the third and fourth set they started finding what they needed to do and relaxing a little bit and just taking care of balls. Allie Monaco found her place [after an early struggle] and did fantastic with it. Amelia [Devlin] put our hitters in great positions.”
Clark said, “In the third set and the fifth set, we just ran a little bit out of gas. I’m so proud of these girls, from where we started the season to where we ended, it was a great year for us. Shanahan played great. A couple of things here and there and the games would have turned another way.”
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