ROYERSFORD — Pope John Paul II had all it could handle at times from Spring-Ford in Thursday night's key Pioneer Athletic Conference girls volleyball match.
But the Golden Panthers — who have added more strong players to bolster the returnees from last year's PIAA-AA semifinalist squad — came through when they needed to in a pair of close games for a second straight 3-0 sweep of the Rams.
PJP (4-0, 8-1) won by scores of 25-18, 29-27, and 26-24 to remain the only undefeated team in the league and move one step closer to capturing the title in the league's inaugural volleyball season.
A well-rounded Panther offense was led by Kelly Tornetta's 11 kills and 31 assists by Geena Bevenour. Cindy Nicholson had 10 kills and Catherine Burger 34 assists for the Rams (4-2, 8-4), who scored eight straight points to take a 25-24 advantage in the middle game and held a 24-22 edge in game No. 3.
"It's their home court, there's a lot of fans here, and they always get up to play us,' said PJP coach Ryan Sell.
"We made them play their best volleyball to beat us,' said Ram coach Josh McNulty.
Spring-Ford held an 11-8 lead in the first game before the visitors rallied to tie at 14-14 and then take the lead on a Ram net violation. The PJP advantage was up to 21-17 shortly after that, forcing a Spring-Ford timeout. But Tornetta ripped one down the left sideline right after play resumed and the Panthers were not threatened again.
Then it appeared as if PJP would take the second game in a runaway after scoring the first five points and building a 19-9 margin. But Spring-Ford kept chipping away to get to within 24-17 and followed that with its eight-point run on an assortment of blocks and kills and PJP errors.
"We were mixing it up ... hitting and tipping and being aggressive,' said McNulty, whose team tied it on a kill by Josie Swenson (9 kills, 7 blocks) and gained the upper hand when the Panthers hit one out of bounds. "It definitely gave us a good chance to win.'
But PJP tied it on a kill by Morgan Shemonski (9 kills) and went back on top on a block by freshman Alana Pergine (8 kills). The Rams tied it two more times after that, but kills by Shemonski and Nicole Dorman (8 kills) — both off passes from Bevenour — put it away for the Panthers.
"We got some kids some playing time,' Sell said concerning the latter stages of that game. "I wanted them to work it out. We had some service errors and hit the ball out of bounds and we had miscommunication on some plays. It all adds up. But then we brought some players back in and we were able to get lucky enough to win that game.'
PJP held a 12-8 advantage in the third game before the Rams rallied for a 20-17 lead. But a dink over the defense by Pergine, a kill by Tornetta, and a return error by the Rams tied it up. Spring-Ford still had a chance to win it at 24-22, but a block out of bounds, a hit into the right corner by Olivia Torres, a hit into the net by the Rams, and a drop shot between the two lines of defense by Dorman gave PJP four straight points and the match.
"We started out shaky and had some unfortunate plays at the end ... some shaky passes on service returns,' said McNulty. "But that's a great team. Overall, I'm proud of the way we played. My defense just did a fantastic job picking the ball up. They did really well covering. We had nine blocks.
"To be down 10 points and come back ... I'm happy with that. Our schedule is insane. We're playing four games a week and have had two practices in the last two weeks. They're having to learn during games. But they're doing a great job and I'm proud of them.'
Burger also had eight digs and Tara Colgan added 16 digs and an ace for the Rams. ... Shemonski is a senior, but didn't play last year. "She's a big part of our offense now,' said Sell. "If she comes around, we'll be OK.' ... Bevenour always seemed to come up with a nice set or two when the Panthers were on the ropes. "She's a great player,' said Sell. "It's nice to have her on the team. She's an emotional leader, too.' ... Tornetta also had eight blocks, Bevenour added 13 service points and Grace Dawson seven service points for PJP, and Kelly Payton racked up 15 digs for the winners.