DOWNINGTOWN -- If the girls on this year's Downingtown East High School volleyball team were offered the choice of tickets to Jay-Z's concert at the Wells Fargo Center in January or a win over Bishop Shanahan in October, it's safe to say they would opt for the win over the Eagles.Sure, it would be thrilling to see Mr. Carter perform in a big arena but it's doubtful that it would match the exhilaration the Cougars felt Thursday evening when they defeated Bishop Shanahan 25-23, 25-10, 14-25, 8-25,15-12 in a thrilling Ches-Mont League match.
It was a monumental win for East in a number of ways. It lifted the Cougars' Ches-Mont League record to 10-0 and virtually locked up the National Division title for East. But, that's not all the victory meant to the Cougars.
"We had never beaten Shanahan before -- ever,' said Downingtown East coach Peggy Hopton, whose team is now 11-0 overall. "That was the first hurdle they had to overcome. I was really happy for our seniors.'
The hotly-contested match featured two very talented and previously undefeated teams that were tied atop the National Division standings -- a veteran and very experienced East squad and a young and athletic Shanahan team.
The host Eagles jumped out to a 7-2 advantage in the first set and stretched it to 13-6 before the Cougars started chipping away at their lead.
East drew even at 16-16 on a kill by Caroline Ambrogi and later went ahead 21-17 on a three-point service run by Ambrogi. Shanahan fought back to close within one point at 22-21, 23-22 and 24-23 but East held on for the win.
In the second set, the Cougars broke the game open midway through on a six-point, three-ace service run by Allison Alicea that put them ahead 14-5. They continued to build the lead to 20-9 and then scored the game's final four points on Lauren Mueller's serve.
Down 0-2 and coming off a 15-point blowout, Shanahan had one foot in the grave. But, the young Eagles never realized that the Grim Reaper was waiting on the hill with his scythe -- waiting for the sign to spring into action. Instead, Shanahan's team found a way to revitalize itself for the third set.The Eagles bolted out to a 6-0 lead, increased it to 9-1 and 11-2 and then never looked back. Shanahan assumed control at the net and took advantage of strong play from a number of powerful hitters -- Rita Shultz, Lauren Godshalk, Haley Kleespies, Katie Lemheney and Chloee Kleespies
"Anyone in their right mind would have expected us to roll over after that second game,' said Bishop Shanahan coach Greg Ashman, whose team is now 10-1 overall and 9-1 in the Ches-Mont. "But, our girls never quit. They came back in the third set and took charge.'
To go from a 15-point loss to an 11-point win was quite a reversal but the Eagles took it to another level in the fourth set when they dominated East and won the set by 17 points. Shanahan served well, played steady defense and had good net play from the same hitters as before.
"We couldn't do anything in the second set,' said Ashman. "In the third and fourth sets, we served well. Rita Shultz has really improved -- especially on attack -- and Chloee Kleespies keeps getting better.'
Hopton said, "What was wrong in the third and fourth sets was that we weren't fighting. Before the fifth set, I told them -- you have to be aggressive...if you're not, you're going to be upset with yourselves. I told them that they had to come out fighting.'
The dissociative identity disorder nature of the first two pairs of sets carried over into the final set.
Shanahan took an early 2-1 advantage and then East took over. The score was knotted at 2-2 when Ambrogi began her serve -- a serve that produced seven unanswered points and featured three kills by Mueller, a block by Caroline Layden and a pair of aces by Ambrogi.
A kill by the Eagles' Alexa Marcum was answered by a kill from Mueller to make the score 10-3. Then, a kill by Chloee Kleespies was answered by a tip for a point by Mueller. The Cougars went up 12-4 on a block by Cassidy Kenny.
The Eagles got points on an East serving error and a kill by Chloee Kleespies to close to within six at 12-6. Mueller came through with another kill to move her team to the brink of another lopsided set victory.
Once again, the young Eagles remained oblivious to the fact that the Grim Reaper was ready to escort them on an unwanted journey. Audrey Rucker served for five consecutive points -- a run that included a kill by Shultz and a pair of aces. In a blink, it had become a one-point game with East on top 13-12.
The Cougars had been in pressure situations before. This year's team includes almost all the players from the 2012 squad that posted a runner-up finish in the District 1 Class AAA playoffs and made it to the quarterfinals in the state tournament.
They handled the pressure again this time. A service error gave them a point and the serve for match point. The contest ended when Mueller sent a deep hard-hit ball to the right corner.
"We lost our focus there for awhile in the third and fourth sets,' said Mueller, a junior outside hitter who finished with 20 kills, 12 digs and two blocks. "We started playing as individuals rather than as a team. They had a lot of momentum coming into the fifth set.
"I figured that, if I'm going to go down, I'm going to go down swinging. My coaches were telling me where the block was set up and that I had to hit sharp cross court -- and it was working. This was definitely the best win we've ever had.'
East's junior libero Sarah Goncharoff, who served well the entire match and also logged 18 digs, said, "Serving is our biggest strength. Without good serving, everything falls apart. I was told by our coaches where to serve and I was putting it there.'