Reading >> Following Bishop Shanahan’s 3-1 loss to undefeated Parkland in the PIAA 4A girls volleyball state semifinals Tuesday night at Exeter Township High School, Eagles head coach Greg Ashman talked about how much his team accomplished this fall.
“Our players should be proud of what they did this season,” said Ashman. “No one picked us to win the Ches-Mont League this year, no one picked us to win the district title. So they accomplished two huge things this season, and we made it to state semifinals, one of the best four teams in the state. They’re very good volleyball players, they’re just good people.”
In the opening set, Parkland (25-0), who earlier won the District 11 4A championship for the eighth consecutive year, never trailed, holding a small lead through most of the contest. The Eagles (21-4) cut Parkland’s lead to 20-18 after a couple of well-placed hits by senior outside hitter Coco Shultz, but the Trojans closed the contest on a 5-0 run to win 25-18.
The second set went back-and-forth, but Shanahan surged to an 18-14 lead on a 4-0 run that featured some fine serving from senior outside hitter/middle blocker Maddie Rudolph.
“They were just my normal serves, I guess I tried to put a little more heat on them because it was do-or-die at that point,” said a smiling Rudolph. “So to leave it all out on the court was [our] thing.”
The Eagles held on, and maintained a narrow 23-22 lead, then a Rudolph kill and some fine play at the net wrapped it up for Shanahan, 25-22.
“We were doing so many things right [in the second set],” said Ashman. “We were covering their tips, we were playing smart at the net. When we needed a big swing, we took a big swing, when we needed a tip we took a tip, we were just in the zone. Sometimes you need to be in the zone.”
On the first play of the third set, a potential game-changing moment occurred when Parkland’s 6-foot standout junior middle hitter Elena Pursell fell to the floor and had to be helped off the court. She remained on the sidelines for the first half of the set, but returned to action with Parkland trailing 11-10. Shanahan extended its lead to 15-12, but Parkland came back to tie the score at 16-16. The set was tied six more times (17-17, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20, 21-21, 22-22), with Shultz and senior outside hitter Laura Brozey providing some fine play up front.
Parkland went ahead 22-21 after winning a long volley, but on the very next play – another extended volley – Shanahan prevailed to tie the score at 22-22.
“I think I’ll always remember that volley – it was at least 30 seconds long, and everybody was all over the court,” said a smiling Shultz. “That play will probably stick in my mind for a long time.”
Parkland won the next two points, thanks to some fine play at the net by 5-10 senior outside hitter Brynn Dreisbach, to go ahead 24-22. Rudolph’s kill cut the lead to 24-23, but a well-placed Trojan tip at the net gave Parkland a 25-23 win and a 2-1 advantage.
“I think if we had taken that third set, things would have been a lot different [after that] for sure,” said Ashman. “If we had gone ahead 2-1, it would be a whole different ballgame, we’d still be playing, probably.”
Rudolph said, “The first three sets, I think we played super loose, super out of our heads.”
Parkland jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set, but Shanahan battled back to tie the score at 9-9. The Trojans then went on a 12-1 run, highlighted by some well-placed tips by 5-8 sophomore setter Maggie Smith, to take a 21-10 lead. A few minutes later, Parkland had a 25-13 win, and Shanahan’s season was over.
It also was the end of the Shanahan volleyball career for eight Eagle seniors – Shultz, Rudolph, Brozey, setter Allison Monaco, setter Amelia Devlin, outside hitter/middle blocker Julia Pagnotto, setter Meghan Collins and defensive specialist Delaney Dwyer.
“I think I’ll always remember the chemistry I had with this team, and especially the other seniors,” said Shultz, who is headed to Franklin & Marshall next fall. “We love and care for each other so much, and it shows on the court. I’m a little sad that I won’t be able to play with all of them again.”
Rudolph said, “We [the eight seniors] are super close, always talking, always hanging out – it’s something really special.”
Ashman said, “Our seniors are [fun-loving], and they’re hard workers. I could say that over and over again. When it’s time to play volleyball, they do that, and when it’s time to relax and have fun, they know how to do that too.”
Rudolph said, “It’s been an absolute honor being in three state tournaments, two state championship finals, and last year’s district run, but I think what I’ll remember most is the bond I have with this team. They are most definitely my sisters – all [30-plus] of us, they mean the world to me, it’s a team I’ll never forget. I am beyond thankful for this experience with our team – I could not have asked for a better team, a better high school volleyball experience.”
Shultz said, “I think what I’ll remember most about this team is its work ethic and its growth. We grew so much, physically and in team chemistry. At the beginning of the season, we never thought we’d be making it to state semifinals, let alone the District 1 finals. I’m really proud of our team – we should keep our heads high, we had one heck of a season, we exceeded all my expectations. We knew Parkland would be strong [tonight], they always are, and we just wanted to play loose and have fun, and I’m really proud of this team.”
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