BETHLEHEM- Last year Pope John Paul II had its hands full against Bethlehem Catholic in the opening round of the PIAA-AA girls volleyball tournament. This time it was no contest as the experienced and highly motivated Golden Panthers won three straight games, all rather easily, by scores of 25-20, 25-18, and 25-10 at Liberty High School.
That sends PJP (17-1) into a quarterfinal on Saturday against Lansdale Catholic, a 3-0 winner over York Suburban, at a time and place to be determined. The loss ended the season for the Golden Hawks (15-8).
Nicole Dorman led the attack for the winners with nine kills and Morgan Shemonski followed with six, Kelly Peyton came up with 10 digs, and Geena Bevenour had nine digs and 16 service points.
The first two games were not even as close as the scores might indicate as the District 1 champion Golden Panthers ran out to a 23-12 advantage in the first one and a 20-7 bulge in the second before hitting lulls at the end of each. Then PJP, which never trailed the entire night, ripped off the first six points of the third game and finished off the match in a little more than an hour.
"All three games, we came out with really strong leads,' said Bevenour. "Games one and two we kind of let up a little bit. But we learned our lesson. We closed the door after that. We're in states. Everyone's going to be good. That was awesome to win three straight games like that.'
"We put a lot of pressure on them early with our serving and they started making a lot of unforced errors,' said PJP coach Ryan Sell. "We played good defense and that frustrates people.'
District 11 champion Bethlehem Catholic got impressive big hits from Taylor Bennett and Jordan Young here and there and some spectacular defensive plays by libero Jean Makovic. But Shemonski knocked down several points to help PJP bolt to the big lead in the first game and Bevenour set Tori Cruciani for the game-ending kill after the Hawks had closed the gap with an 8-1 run.
Kelly Tornetta finished up the second game with a kill and Shemonski was strong at the net throughout the night.
"I think we were playing well,' said Shemonski.'We were more hyped than they were and we came out and beat them. Just everything worked well together.'
Last year PJP began state play with a 3-1 win over Bethlehem Catholic — winning two close games and dropping a lop-sided third - and advanced to the semifinals before losing a heart-breaking five game match to undefeated Delone Catholic. That all turned out to be a good learning experience for the Golden Panthers, who will be satisfied with nothing less than a championship this season.
"We're taking baby steps ... one step at a time,' said Bevenour. "We're so excited to be moving forward. We were calm and collected the whole game, I think. Last years' experience ... it helped us to know that we're completely capable of competing at this level. It helps our confidence level.'
Sell also thinks last year's run to the PIAA Final Four helped, especially in knowing how to warm up before state-level matches.
"It helped tremendously to be prepared,' he said. "They won't allow you to touch volleyballs until 20 minutes (before the match). We learned a valuable lesson in our semifinal against Delone warming up.'
Lansdale Catholic (25-2) also had an easy time on Tuesday with a 25-8, 25-16, 25-17 win over the District 3 runner-up. ... Last year LC dropped a 3-1 match in the opening round to Berks Catholic, which than lost a 3-0 decision to the Golden Panthers in the quarterfinals.