Pope John Paul II can't escape West York in state quarterfinals

By DAVE KURTZ

EXETER TWP. – Pope John Paul II has shown a penchant for Houdini-like escapes all season.

High drama has been the forte of the Golden Panthers, who went 6-2 in five-set matches including monumental, take-it-to-the-limit decisions over Perkiomen Valley (PAC semifinals), previously unbeaten Upper Merion (PAC championship), Mount St. Joseph (district semifinal) and Cardinal O’Hara (state playoff opener).

The higher the stakes, the better the Panthers seemed to perform.

But Saturday at Exeter High School, PJP encountered a lock it couldn’t spring, a trap it couldn’t solve, a predicament it couldn't escape in a season-ending 3-1 loss to (3-2) West York in the PIAA-3A quarterfinals.

“We were never able to get going,” said PJP coach Ryan Sell, whose club fell behind 2-0 and never recovered, dropping the match by counts of 25-19, 25-16, 19-25, 25-19. “They played really good defense and ran some faster stuff at us. Our serving was off and that No. 19 (Tesia Thomas) was really good.”

Thomas, a sophomore, was a virtual beast at the net – finishing with 7 blocks and 13 kills – including the blistering match clincher. Gianna Krinock chipped in with 15 kills for the Bulldogs, who advance to the state semifinals Tuesday against Allentown Central Catholic.

“This game is all about serving and passing,” said Sell. “And we weren’t doing any of those things very well.”

The first set was a harbinger of things to come for the Golden Panthers, who committed five service errors in falling 25-19. West York capitalized on more poor fundamental play in Game 2, riding an early 10-2 run to a 25-16 conquest.

“I’m not sure what it was,” said PJP senior Mary Kate Mooney, who finished with 10 kills and 16 digs. “But we kept fighting.”

The fight resulted in 25-19 Game 3 victory with Mikaela Monroe (5 kills), Mooney (3) and Caitlin Gilinger (3) combining for 11 kills. Not coincidentally, the Golden Panthers were finding their serving rhythm.

Statistically, PJP was led by Monroe (10 kills), Gilinger (7 kills), Simone Sparano (20 digs), senior Maggie Bevenour (14 digs), Maddie Lesinski (21 assists, 14 digs) and Chelsea Harvey (16 assists, 16 digs).

“We had some opportunities in Game 4 but made a lot of (unforced) errors,” said Sell, who club was within 21-17 before the Bulldogs finished with a flourish, capitalizing on five service errors all told in the clinching game.

Despite the loss – which ended an 8-game win streak and concluded a 19-5 season – Sell and Mooney were elated with the accomplishments of a young team that entered the season with just two seniors and a lot of holes to fill.

“Our expectations are always high here,” said Sell. “But we had lost seven seniors and there wasn’t much experience. But I’m really pleased the way things went. Now the kids have experience and we’ve seen the growth. It’s been really good – everything is moving in the right direction and things are looking very good for next year.”

There will be no next year at PJP for Mooney, who plans to continue her volleyball career at Division II Bloomsburg University next fall. But what the senior outside hitter helped orchestrate won’t soon be forgotten.

“We accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for,’ said Mooney. “We worked so hard this season and I’m very proud of what we did.”