WILLISTOWN — "Crunch Time' has arrived for Villa Maria Academy's volleyball team. Tonight (7:30) at Upper Dublin High, the Hurricanes square off against Pope John Paul II in the championship game of the District One Class AA tournament.
There is a lot more at stake than just the district crown. The winner of the match will advance to the PIAA Class AA playoffs with an opening round match next Tuesday against the District 11 champion at a neutral site.
The Villa girls will have to be at the top of their form if they hope to dethrone the talented PJP II team — a team that won the inaugural PAC-10 title this year and currently sports a gaudy 15-1 record.
The necessity of playing top-caliber volleyball tonight is something that Danielle Hillman and her VMA teammates are well aware of.
"I'm super-pumped,' said Hillman, a resident of West Norriton. "And, I know my whole team is, too. We really want to beat Pope John Paul.'
Villa Maria, this year's AACA (Athletic Association of Catholic Academies), has an impressive 18-2 record. One of the 'Canes two losses was a non-league match against Pope John Paul II on Oct. 10.
"The first time we played them, we started strong and then slowed down,' said Hillman. "We kept making mistakes. I think our teams are evenly matched. When playing PJP, the key is hitting their setter — to try to get the ball to her so that she can't set it.'
Hillman, who is 6-feet, 2-inches tall, has been playing volleyball since she was in fifth grade at Visitation B.V.M. in West Norriton.
"I played C.Y.O. volleyball and since I was in fifth grade,' said Hillman, who is a force at the net for Villa Maria. "I used to play basketball too, but then I realized that I loved volleyball even more.
"I've been playing club volleyball since eighth grade with PVA (Philadelphia Volleyball Academy) and Valley Forge (Valley Forge Girls Volleyball Club).
This year, I'll probably play for EC Power (East Coast Power Volleyball).'
Honors from this season have already begun to arrive for Hillman. She was just named to the All-AACA for the second year in a row.
"Danielle should be All-District One when they announce the team,' said Villa Maria Academy coach Joe Boland, who graduated from Bishop Kenrick High and Saint Joseph's University.
"Hopefully, she'll be selected for the All-State team too. She's had a great season this year. At 6-2, she's the tallest player we've had since Amy McKeon, who graduated in 2005. She'll end up with the best total in the team's history for blocks-per-set.
"The real story with Danielle is the progress she's made in four seasons. She has dedicated herself to keep continually getting better. As a sophomore, she became a starter at middle blocker a few games into the season. She's stayed a middle blocker ever since. Being as tall as she is and having good timing allows her to block well. She reads what happens and reacts. Danielle really has good anticipation when she's playing.'
Hillman's height and quick adaptability have frustrated opponents all season.
"I do have a height advantage just because I'm tall,' said Hillman, who is still undecided with regard to her college selection. "I've definitely grown as a player. I've learned to read the hitter. I can really shut down other hitters when I'm blocking them.'
If Villa Maria plays its game and Hillman has a good night of blocking against PJP II tonight, there might be blocking of another sort. The Hurricanes could block Pope John Paul II's team from having an extended season.