Bishop Shanahan sweeps previously perfect Downingtown East for Ashman's 300th win
And the unblemished Eagles went out and somehow exceeded those lofty expectations by sweeping the Cougars 25-20, 25-8, 25-11. It took just over an hour and was the volleyball equivalent of a mercy-rule blowout.
“We had a mission. There was a lot on the line,” said Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman.
“Downingtown East is a fantastic program, but we played really well,” added standout hitter Cara Shultz. “Our team as a whole really rose the occasion.”
Now 11-0 in the league (14-0 overall), Shanahan clinched the National Division title and are two wins away from closing out another Ches-Mont crown. As a program, the Eagles have not dropped a match to any District 1 opponent in more than three calendar years.
“Shanahan is always a good team, they played well, and from the get-go they put pressure on us,” said East head coach Peggy Hopton. “They have a lot of talent.”
A win over the No. 3 team in the district 4A power rankings should solidify the Eagles’ position at the top by percentage points over Upper Merion. And Ashman said, in no uncertain terms, that “we want the top seed.” But the win over East (10-1, 15-1 overall) was also a milestone for Ashman, who is in his 15th season at the helm.
“It was a personal thing tonight,” he explained. “I don’t ask the girls for many favors but I asked them to give me the 300th win (of my career).”
Shanahan responded impressively, and did it without the full services of senior all-conference libero Julie Gallagher, who is recovering from a concussion. She played sparingly but Grace Casagrande filled in seamlessly.
“We have a rivalry with (Downingtown East), and we wanted to give coach Greg his 300thwin. So there were a lot of things going on,” said senior hitter Michaela Devlin.
“We knew both teams were undefeated, so this was big,” Shultz added. “We’ve had some rough spells the last two or three matches, so this was refreshing.”
The Eagles staged great starts in each of the first two sets. It was 9-4 in the first and 8-3 in the second, and Shultz was a force in closing out both. A junior who missed most of last season with an injury, Shultz had two kills and an ace in the later stages of the initial win, and then had two more impactful kills in the second.
“Somebody said to me that (Shultz) should be illegal – and I still have another year with her,” Ashman said. “She is a phenomenal player and is a kid that is always trying to get better. I can’t imagine her ceiling if she continues to progress the way she is.
“She is healthy and stronger than I’ve ever seen her. And she is playing very smart.”
The third set was tied six times early, but Gallagher served for four straight points to open a 10-6 lead. Hopton called two timeouts to try to slow down the momentum, but Shultz had three more kills, Bridgette Kelly added two blocks the rest of the way as Shanahan cruised.
“I am very disappointed we were unable to give them more of a match,” said Hopton, who used all six of her allotted timeouts on Thursday.
“(Shanahan is) a good serving team and they put pressure on us. That was the difference. They served a lot more than we did because we weren’t winning points, and we didn’t pass well. And if you can’t pass, you can’t attack. And if you give them easy balls, they are coming back with a bomb.”
Shultz led the way with 12 kills and chipped in with 10 digs, two blocks and three aces. Devlin (seven kills, three blocks) and Julia Thomas (three kills, six blocks) were also highly effective at the net.
“I didn’t expect us to beat them in single digits. But it was definitely one of our better performances this season,” Devlin said.
Ashman said that it wasn’t the Eagles best outing this season, but it was the best in a couple weeks. He credited his team’s ability to take control in the early going.
“It we can take some hard swings and get a couple big stuff blocks early, that demoralizes an opponent. It plays right into our strengths. We are big across the net, but we are also doing things the right way. Our blockers were really working hard.”
Victoria Rudolph had four kills for the Cougars and teammate Rachel Wertz led the way with eight digs.
“You want your players thinking positively and that the next point is a new game,” Hopton explained.
“What’s happened in the past already happened, you have to look ahead. But it’s easy to train physically, and harder to train mentally.”