John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Even though most thought it was a tad far-fetched, Archbishop Wood’s volleyball team truly believed it was good enough to win the Philadelphia Catholic League championship this year.

Lo and behold, the Vikings were correct.

Led by several players who took charge from the opening serve, Wood stunned regular-season champion Cardinal O’Hara in three games and captured the league title Oct. 31 at Cabrini College in Radnor.

“We got going and didn’t want to stop,” said senior Jen Whelan, who dominated the front line with six blocks and 13 kills. “Once we got our game where it needed to be, we took control.”

The Vikings trailed O’Hara 13-10 in the first game but then outscored the Lions 15-7 for the early 1-0 advantage. That was more than Wood could produce in its regular-season match against O’Hara, which the Lions won convincingly in three games. {{more}}

However, Wood had played that match without fiery libero Sarah Brady, who missed significant action this fall because of a serious knee injury. Brady’s athletic presence emerged in the Vikings’ 3-2 semifinal upset of the Patriots of Archbishop Carroll, who also defeated the Vikings during the regular season.

While one player is probably not enough to create such a disparity in results, it obviously played a large part in Wood’s second title in four years. O’Hara coach Bill Collins concurred, labeling Brady one of the best players in Catholic League history.

Although Brady appreciated the compliment, she was more concerned with making sure the rest of her teammates received their deserved share of plaudits.

“Everyone is willing to give everything they have for the good of the team,” Brady said. “We all work together. It’s never about just one player. We work really hard in practice and pull for one another.”

If there was any debate as to whether or not Wood’s victory in game one was simply a mirage, it was eliminated in the second game when the Vikings began on an 11-1 tear. Despite its firepower, O’Hara was unable to rebound, and the Vikings won game two, 25-15.

Respecting them for their potential, the Vikings figured they would receive an arduous effort from their foes in the third game, and that they did. The Lions took an 11-8 lead and enjoyed a brief respite from a growing anxiety, but like the entire match had gone, the Vikings rattled off seven of the next eight points to move ahead 15-12.

Although O’Hara took advantage of a perhaps-overanxious Wood to tie the game at 18, the Lions were unable to capitalize on the momentum, and Archbishop Wood emerged with a 25-23 victory and a Catholic League title that few thought possible.

“They came in here thinking they were going to win,” said Wood coach Susan Kim. “They were determined to find a way.”

In addition to Whelan and Brady’s gaudy numbers, Felicia Yabor finished with several pivotal kills that squashed much of O’Hara’s energy. Michelle Healy might have been the unofficial player of the game after supplying 29 assists, nine digs and two blocks. Teammate Molly Fox contributed 16 digs and 10 kills.

Brady was then able to answer the question that, entering the season, she had hoped to be asked: Which championship team was better – this year’s, or the crew from 2008?

Perhaps gearing up for a career in politics, Brady didn’t succumb to the bait.

“We have had some great teams, and this is one of the best,” Brady said. “Both championships were great. This one feels different. Maybe it’s because as a senior, it means more to win because it’s your last chance to do it.”

To their credit, the favored Lions offered no excuses.

“It wasn’t like we didn’t want it,” said visibly disappointed O’Hara standout Corrinne Kelleher, the Catholic League’s Most Valuable Player who finished with six kills and 20 digs. “We wanted it, and so did they. They came to play and they got the job done, and we didn’t.”

Collins agreed.

“We couldn’t get clicking,” he said. “We tried, but they wouldn’t let us. Give them credit.”

Both teams will now participate in the PIAA tournament. Since O’Hara plays in the AAA classification as opposed to Wood in the AA, the two teams cannot face each other again this season.

“O’Hara is very good,” said Whelan. “We were disappointed to lose to them earlier, but we beat them when it counted most.”

John Knebels can be reached at