FORT WASHINGTON — The Pope John Paul II girls volleyball team is headed back to the PIAA Tournament after a three-game sweep of Villa Maria Academy in Thursday night's District 1-AA championship match.
The Golden Panthers (16-1), who advanced to the state semifinals last year, came roaring out of the gate in the first set, survived the Hurricane's best shot at the beginning of the second, and took a back-and-forth third for a 25-10, 25-22, 25-22 win at Upper Dublin High School.
Nicole Dorman had 10 kills and 10 service points for the winners, Morgan Shemonski followed with nine kills, and Kelly Tornetta and Victoria Cruciani added seven kills each. Geena Bevenour racked up 25 assists and three aces to aid the cause and Kelly Payton led the winners with 14 digs.
PJP will open PIAA play on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Liberty High School in Bethlehem against Bethlehem Catholic, a 3-1 winner over Notre Dame Green Pond in Thursday night's District 11 title match.
"I think we're peaking right at the right place in time,' said Panthers senior co-captain Bevenour. "We've been working really hard in practice, knowing what's coming up. It all kind of came together tonight. It flowed.'
PJP won the first point of the night on a serve by Villa (16-3). Then Bevenour served six straight points, including two aces, and the Panthers were on their way to an easy win.
That was unlike a regular season match three weeks ago when the Hurricanes won two close sets to start before PJP took three in a row for the win.
That slow start was something the Golden Panthers remembered.
"Definitely,' said PJP junior Dorman. "We all knew we had to come out swinging and not let up.'
"At times, everything looked like it was going well,' said PJP coach Ryan Sell. "That first set, we came out really strong. We controlled the tempo in that first set.'
The outset of the second set was just the opposite as Villa jumped to leads of 7-0 and 9-1. But PJP chipped away to tie it at 13-13, took its first lead at 20-19, broke a 22-22 deadlock when Dorman hit one off a block, and wrapped it up on a kill into the opposite corner by Tornetta.
The Panthers had all they could handle again in the third set, but broke away from a slim 16-15 advantage with five straight points, including a pair of kills by Dorman, another by Cruciani, and a block by Bevenour.
"They were coming out swinging, too,' said Dorman. "We knew they would from the beginning.'
"We knew they were much better than they played in the first game,' added Bevenour, who also had seven digs. "We're very good at that ... switching the momentum onto our side. The blocking was very good tonight.'
The Golden Panthers have been on a roll ever since an early-season loss to Bishop Shanahan, a setback that actually seemed to help the team.
"We learned how it felt to not win, and we didn't like it,' said Dorman. "We came back working harder in practice. That was our mindset.'
Last year the Golden Panthers followed a 3-1 win over Villa in the district final with three straight state wins in state play, starting with a 3-1 decision of Bethlehem Catholic.
"We want to win states,' said Bevenour. "We have to take it one game at a time, obviously ... small steps. But that's our goal.'