UPPER PROVIDENCE — The first-ever Pioneer Athletic Conference girls volleyball season is complete and Pope John Paul II is the undefeated champion. The Golden Panthers finished at 8-0 with a three-set win over the inexperienced visitors from Phoenixville on Wednesday night, winning by scores of 25-8, 25-13, and 25-7.
Morgan Shemonski had eight kills, Grace Dawson 15 assists and four aces, and Alexa DiFilippo 16 digs and 25 service points for PJP (14-1 overall), which hopes to begin another long post-season run when district play begins in two weeks.
The Panthers ran players in and out during the match against the Phantoms, who went winless in the league and 4-12 overall in their first season as an official school sport.
"We're trying to get everyone playing time when we can,' said PJP coach Ryan Sell. "We have a lot of kids who are capable of it and some of them are juniors who will be playing next year.'
Phoenixville jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first game on a long volley win and a service return error and a hit out of bounds by the hosts. PJP led by just a 7-6 score later in the game, but took control with a 13-point run.
Then the Golden Panthers took a 16-2 lead in the second game and a 6-1 advantage in the third on the way to their eighth straight three-game sweep in the league.
"We're such a young team,' said Phantom co-coach Laura Howard, whose squad out-scored the hosts by an 11-9 margin at the end of the second game. "We're proud of our girls. They truly are a family.
"The fact that other coaches come up and congratulate us on doing a good job with such a young team ... that means a lot,' added co-coach Julie Cordingly.
The Phantoms competitive play is even more impressive with just two girls on the roster with any kind of competitive volleyball experience.
"It's a tough league,' said Howard. "With a team of 34 girls, there's potential here. Against the teams more our caliber, we've done really well.'
And while the season is now over for the Phantoms, PJP will head on to District 1-AA, and hopefully PIAA, play after advancing to the Final Four in the state last season.
Along the way, the Golden Panthers have done a good job of staying focused during the season while looking forward to the post-season.
"We've really worked on that a lot in practice about staying focused,' said Sell. "You can't let the team you're playing effect your level of play.'
"I honestly think it kind of enhances our focus,' added senior co-captain Geena Bevenour. "We know what we're capable of, and we want to beat that this year. It's time to re-evaluate where we want to go. The regular season's done. That's past us. It's another new stage.'
Senior co-captain Victoria Cruciani thinks that her team is ready for another run, despite having lost six seniors — including All-State outside hitter Kelly Guarino — from last year's squad.
"We adjusted quickly,' she said. "We miss our seniors, but we have enough talent to make us as successful as we were last year. It's practice as usual.'
Nicole Dorman and Alana Pergine each added five kills and Olivia Torres four for the winners and Bevenour had 10 assists. ... The Panthers had all but wrapped up the PAC-10 title with their second win over runner-up Spring-Ford nearly three weeks ago. ... PJP's only loss came in its second match of the season. ... "We lost to Bishop Shanahan in three sets and that helped us,' said Sell. ... Pope John Paul is expected to receive the no. 1 seed at the district seeding meeting on Thursday night and the four-team tournament will begin on October 29 at Wissahickon, with the winner advancing to the PIAA-AA Tournament.