LOWER GWYNEDD — Pope John Paul II's Kelly Tornetta paced the team with 13 kills while Geena Bevenour contributed 23 assists as the Golden Panthers ousted Merion Mercy in straight sets, 3-0, on Tuesday night in the District 1-AA semifinals at Wissahickon High School.
Set scores were 25-13, 25-10, 25-15.
Similar to PJP's last encounter with Merion Mercy in which the Golden Panthers ousted the Golden Bears in straight sets, the team was led by exceptional passing throughout the match.
Head coach Ryan Sell and his Golden Panthers didn't trail in the match until early in the third set where they fell behind 5-3. PJP then took advantage of a service error and two attack errors to build a 9-6 lead en route to a 25-15 set victory to grab the match.
"We took control in the first game and didn't really let up until the start of the third set,' Sell said.
"I'm proud of my girls,' Merion Mercy head coach Jolen Aldaya said. "They've worked hard all season. We've had some unbelievable games this season.'
"Kudos to Ryan, he's a really good coach who does a great job over there,' Aldaya added. "I wish them well but we'll try again next year.'
The Golden Bears (13-18-6) saw strong play from Marissa Abbonizio in the early going as she registered two kills to help Merion Mercy pull to within 9-7 in the first set. However, a double-hit, an attack error and two kills by PJP's Tornetta facilitated a 8-1 run that allowed the Golden Panthers to coast to a 25-13 set victory. "We didn't pass as well as we hoped,' Aldaya said. "Hoped we would of played a little better defense, pass a little better. We had a game plan coming in but they passed really well.'
The second set didn't fare any better for the Golden Bears as PJP coasted to a 8-0 set lead on its first server — highlighted by a service ace by Bevenour and kills by Tornetta, Alana Pergine and Morgan Shemonski. Four attack errors allowed Merion Mercy to pull to within 16-7 but Tornetta added three more kills to keep the Golden Bears at bay, giving PJP the 25-10 set victory.
"We did a really good job serving today,' Sell said. "We kept them running, they have a really good libero so we tried to keep the ball away from her.'
The third set saw the Golden Bears grab a lead for the first time, but Tornetta and strong blocking from Shemonski and Pergine allowed the Golden Panthers to bounce back and go on a blistering 15-3 run to put the set and the match out of reach.
"I'm just proud they got this far,' Aldaya said. "It's what we do at Merion. Our pedigree is making districts. I was hard on them this year. We have a few underclassmen but they stepped up this year.'
The Golden Panthers will face Villa Maria in the District 1-AA championship on Thursday night at Upper Dublin High School. Villa Maria took PJP to five sets on October 10th before the Golden Panthers grabbed the last set 15-12 to win the match.
"They're going to come out and play us tough,' Sell said. "They want to beat us. We've beaten them the last four times that we met, I know they don't want to lose to us again.'
Pope John Paul II registered seven blocks in the contest. Shemonski finished the day with seven kills while Pergine finished with six kills on six attacks for a perfect hitting percentage. Tornetta led the team with five service aces.