West Chester Rustin used Tuesday’s volleyball showdown at Bishop Shanahan as a barometer – to see where the program is against the best.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have already faced off against premier competition and already know that they are in elite company as one of the state’s best. And the three-time defending District 1 champs proved it with an impressive straight set win over the visiting Golden Knights, 25-11, 25-17, 25-21.
“Shanahan is a superior serving team, and they put a lot of pressure on you,” said Rustin head coach Harry Bitzberger. “We just couldn’t pass the ball the way we needed to in order to compete.
“Their front line is huge. They’ve got it all. They are like an all-star team.”
The Class 4A state runner-up last season, Shanahan has a front-loaded schedule that’s already included three of the state’s top-10: Emmaus, Parkland and Liberty. The Eagles vanquished all three, and now has a convincing win over, perhaps, the most serious Ches-Mont contender.
“We knew Rustin is one of the better competitions in the Ches-Mont. But we know everybody is out to get us,” said senior setter Alexa Burns.
“We knew Rustin is a good team,” added Shanahan head coach Greg Ashman. “They are definitely one of the team’s you have to beat to win the Ches-Mont. And we knew that after last year’s (four-set) battle at their place that they were gunning for us.”
The Knights (3-1, 6-1 overall) had lots of trouble early and were blitzed in the opening set. It was more competitive in the second, and even more so in the third.
“(Shanahan) beat us bad the first set,” Bitzberger acknowledged. “They took it to us, but the girls didn’t back down. They played their hearts out. That’s all I can ask.
“Our girls had a decision to make and we spoke about it. They weren’t giving up.”
What many were expecting – a gritty battle between unbeatens – finally materialized late. Spurred on by back-to-back aces from Emily Supplee, Rustin raced out to a 7-1 lead in the third.
“Some of our fundamentals broke down in that third game,” Ashman said. “Our blocking was spot-on in games one and two, but it broke down and so did our passing and even our communication a little bit. They took advantage of those things.”
But Shanahan never panicked. Star junior Cara Shultz helped kick-start the comeback with a kill, and then unleashed a vicious jump-serve that eventually knotted the score. It was tied seven times from 13-13 to 19-19.
“We could have freaked out, being down six so early, but we kept our cool,” said senior middle blocker Alyssa Wright.
“We’ve been down more than 7-1 before and came back,” Burns added. “We are used to it.”
Thanks to a big block by Michaela Devlin and a key kill by Burns, the Eagles wound up scoring seven of the last nine points to put the Knights away.
“We have some of the same players, but the vibe is different from last season,” Ashman explained. “This team is very calm, very respectful and wanting to learn more and more.”
Shultz led the way with 13 kills and 14 digs, and teammate Julie Gallagher chipped in with 13 digs for Shanahan.
“We’ve played a lot of big opponents already, so we know where we are,” Ashman said.
“I told the team last weekend that the greatest compliment for me would be to sit down and watch them play and not have to coach a game.”
Senior hitter Emma Nelson paced Rustin with 10 kills and 11 assists, and Supplee added eight digs and six aces.
“(Shanahan) is a really good team,” Bitzberger said. “We looked at this as an early test to see where we are. Well, we need to get back into the gym and work on some things.”