WILLISTOWN — When Sacred Heart Academy faced Villas Maria Academy in a nonleague high school girls volleyball match Monday afternoon, the odds were stacked against the visiting Lions in a variety of ways.
Knocking off Villa Maria in their own gym has never been an easy task. On top of that, on this particular day, Sacred Heart had to come to Villa's gym in search of a win when the Hurricanes were celebrating Senior Day.
But what really provided the most incentive for the host squad was the significance of the match -- the milestone that would be reached with a victory.
The Hurricanes swept Sacred Heart 25-13, 25-11, 25-16 and presented veteran coach Joe Boland with his 600th career win. It was also the 600th win for the Villa Maria program which has only ever had one coach."Getting the 600th win is pretty cool,' said Boland. "It's nice that it came on Senior Night -- in our home gym on a special night.'
Boland became Villa Maria's coach back in the inaugural season in 1993.
"My daughter Megan was in the Class of 1995,' said Boland. "I raised the question of starting a team at Villa casually to (athletic director) Maurene (Polley) and she was very supportive. So, we got started in 1993.'
Boland actually got started as a volleyball coach in CYO at Mother of Divine Providence in King of Prussia when his kids were a lot younger.
"The coach at Mother of Divine Providence left and they needed a coach,' said Boland. "They asked me and I agreed.'
Boland and Tony Funsten were coaches together at Mother of Divine Providence. Funsten moved on later to coach at Upper Merion High. He is still the Vikings' coach and, ironically, is just a few victories shy of his 600th win at his school.
In 21 seasons as the head coach at Villa Maria, Boland has logged a won-loss record of 600-130 which translates to a winning percentage of .822. Under Boland, the Hurricanes have won a pair of PIAA Class AAA championships.They went 30-3 when they won the state title in 1996 and a perfect 27-0 when they claimed the state crown in 2002. The Villa program has also produced nine district championships -- seven in Class AAA and two in Class AA.
Boland and the VMA program has sent more than 50 players on to compete at college, including Lauren Venarchik, who was All-Big East at Rutgers University, Megan Maguire and Anastasia Collins at Loyola University and Danielle Skrajewski, who was the Pennsylvania Player-of-the-Year before moving on to play for Xavier University.
"We've had a lot of girls go on to do well playing at the collegiate level, including the Connell sisters -- Morgan at George Mason University and Jenna at Hofstra University,' said Boland. "We've also had a few girls play for La Salle University, including Caitlin Keefe and Amy McKeon.'
The Villa Maria program had a humble beginning.
"We played an independent schedule in 1993 and then joined the SCCL (Southern Chester County League),' said Boland, a graduate of Bishop Kenrick High School (Norristown) and St. Joseph's University. "The AACA (Athletic Association of Catholic Academies) didn't start until the early 2000s. We won every league championship until the twins.'
The "twins' were Shelby and Stacey Manthorpe who lead Merion Mercy Academy to a four-year run of AACA titles from 2007-2010. St. Basil's Academy was AACA champ in 2011 and then Villa Maria lost to Mount Saint Joe's in the league final last season.
In 21 seasons, Boland's teams have never posted a losing season.
"We had a .500 season four years ago,' said Boland. "That's as close as we came to having a losing season.'
The Hurricanes are far removed from flirting with a sub-.500 season this year. With Monday's win over Sacred Heart, the Hurricanes improved to 14-1 with two regular-season matches remaining.
The Sacred Heart match was a lop-sided affair right from the start. The 'Canes stormed out to a 17-5 lead in the first set and maintained a 12-point margin until the end. In the second set, they built leads of 14-3 and 20-5 before eventually winning 25-11.
The Lions put up more of a fight in the third set and trailed by only two points (18-16) in the latter stages of the set. But a six-point service run that featured five successful serves by Danielle Hillman and an ace by Molly McArdle closed out the match.
The Hurricanes ruled the net against the much smaller Lions. Sacred Heart was unable to handle the 'Canes' powerful hitters, especially Elle Salinas and Hillman."Without any tall players on the other team, it allowed me to control the net,' said Hillman, a senior middle. "They weren't trying to block so that made it really easy to get kills. There were a lot of open spaces. Our libero Shae Murphy told me where the holes were and I was able to execute.'
Salinas had similar comments about Murphy.
"I don't think it was weaknesses in Sacred Heart's defense that enabled us to get so many kills,' said Salinas, a senior outside hitter. "I always have Shae to tell me where to hit.
"This was a good 600th win. And, it was nice that it came on a night when we had Senior Night. Overall, I don't think we played our best but we did what we had to do to win.'