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GIRLS' VOLLEYBALL: Academy of Notre Dame Captures 6th Consecutive PAISAA Title in Victory Over Agnes Irwin

11/04/2018, 9:45pm EST
By Dan McCarty

Academy of Notre Dame Volleyball Team 2018 PAISAA and Inter-Ac Champions (photo-courtesy AND athletics)

BRYN MAWR, PA--The Academy of Notre Dame volleyball team has gone all the way once again. A 3-0 rout of Agnes Irwin in the final round of the PAISAA playoffs Thursday, November 1, at Baldwin, earned Notre Dame its sixth consecutive title.

It did not happen easily, especially in the beginning. Notre Dame won by scores of 25-22, 25-16 and 25-9. Agnes Irwin was ahead for much of the first set before Notre Dame settled down and maintained a less tight lead for much of the action.

“After being behind for most of the first set to a tenacious Agnes Irwin team, the strength of Notre Dame’s defense propelled the Irish to a victory,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Sheridan.

Junior Maddie Donaphon who finished with a total of 18 digs, prevailed on defense. Junior Riley Shaak and senior captain Lexi Shreiner combined for 37 kills on the road to victory.

“We have strong attackers,” said Sheridan. “Passing improved. That’s what carried us to the end.”

“We struggled to get our offense going, battling against a very tight Notre Dame defense,” said Agnes Irwin head coach Sarah Lawrence.

Strong serving by junior Sara McDougall as well as sophomore Christine Covello helped Notre Dame (17-2) capture another championship trophy. Of course, the team also could not have done it without the help of its loyal fans including family members and the school community.

“It was a team effort,” said ND senior captain Samantha McGarvey. “Fans helped a lot. There was a lot of energy.”

Leading the way for Agnes Irwin were sophomore Junior Mara Zwilling with five kills. Senior captain Gianna Napoleon added four kills.

“We had a really great season,” said senior captain Taryn Kelly. “We’ve been such a hard-working team.”

Napoleon also paced the defense with four solo blocks. Additionally, freshman Jenna Zwilling recorded four digs. The Owls conclude the year with a final record of 12-5.

Coming in second on the season, the future looks bright for Agnes Irwin. While six seniors are graduating, there will be six returning as full-time starters.

Academy of Notre Dame wins 2018 PAISAA Championship with final match point vs. Agnes Irwin (video- Dan McCarty).

AND senior captain Lexi Shreiner talks about her team's dynamics during the game. (video- Dan McCarty).

“This season we saw the maturity and leadership of our captains, seniors and upper-class players who influenced the team to drive unity and cohesion,” said Lawrence. “Each player developed their technical skills throughout the year and made strong contributions to make the AIS Owls a strong, worthy opponent.”

AIS senior captain Taryn Kelly talks about her team and season (video-Dan McCarty).

AIS senior captains Lauren Karlson, Gianna Napoleon, Taryn Kelly and Dayna Thompson (photo- Dan McCarty).

The Academy of Notre Dame also won the Inter-Ac Championship outright going undefeated (7-0) in the league.  This season may have appeared seamless for the Irish, but according to Sheridan, his squad had challenges along the way.

"This year, there was the loss of two strong three-year starters, a change in coaches the day before the start of the season, a number of scheduling snafus that meant 1/3 of our matches were played in a 12 day span.  We had a smaller than normal roster.  So when we hit that part of the season, when illnesses start taking their toll, our ranks were very thin to fill in for missing players. In the face of that, I was most proud that the team never looked for excuses or even focused on them in a "whoa is me" way.   Instead, it was as though these challenges didn't exist.  Players played hurt and they played when not feeling well. They played out of their normal positions. But nothing was said about it - no complaints nor self-pity.  They just continued to give all of themselves, whether in a match or at practice. That, plus the constant support, encouragement and energy they would give one another, no matter the situation, was a source of my pride in all the players," said Sheridan.

As with any successful team, there comes the pressure of living-up to expectations. According to Sheridan, that is a mixed blessing.

"Each year, the pressure to repeat increases.  No team wants to be the one that broke the streak. So, on the one hand, it weighs heavy. On the other, it provides a source of trust and confidence in the approach being taken to be successful. The team is very conscious that Notre Dame volleyball teams have a target on their back as teams will bring their best game to challenge them each and every match,"said Sheridan.

Those challenges, whether it be to losing 8 seniors to graduation in one year or to facing a tough schedule, seem to bring out the best in this team.

"It's the players' energy, spirit, constant encouragement for each other and great chemistry, mutual respect and hard work which allows Notre Dame to continue to be competitive. We play as many top teams as will schedule us during the regular season knowing that, win or lose, it prepares us well for the challenges that will come within our league and  PAISAA tournament," said Sheridan.

Academy of Notre Dame pose for a celebration picture after winning PAISAA Tournament (photo-AND athletics)

Sheridan also compliments the quality of his senior captains for providing a huge source of strength each year.

This year's ND graduating seniors including Shreiner, McGarvey and captain Emma Jardine are no exception and have all the confidence in the world that next year’s team will do it all over again.

Shreiner offered these words of wisdom to her teammates for next year.

“Don’t underestimate yourselves because your capable of so much,” said Shreiner. “Just stay strong.”

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