By John Knebels

DOWNINGTOWN – Julie Joyce remembered it like it was yesterday.

She and a host of then-Bishop Shanahan freshmen volleyball players were talking about their dreams and goals. Someone mentioned winning a state championship before they were through with high school, and they all agreed that they would make it a reality.

In the PIAA Class AAA final on Nov. 14 at Central York High School, Shanahan’s seniors – aided by several standout underclassmen – made good on their promise from three years ago. The Eagles defeated a thoroughly overmatched Allentown Central Catholic in three sets to capture the program’s first-ever state title.

“We thought we could definitely win one of these before we were done,” said Joyce, reminiscing about that innocent day, when her high school career wasn’t even a month old. “We kept getting better, and then, coming into this year, we felt confident that we had a really good shot.”

The only blemish on Shanahan’s resume was a grueling five-set loss to Merion Mercy Academy. Ironically, Merion was able to shake off a slow start this season and peak at the best possible time – arguably starting with that road victory over Shanahan on Oct. 14 – and also snare a state championship, that of the Class AA variety, the school’s third straight.

So care to take a guess what bothers some of Shanahan’s soon- to-be graduates?

“Losing to Merion still irks me,” said senior Emily Carlin. “It kills me. When I look at our 29-1 record, it’s hard to look away from that loss. It was such a good match and it came down to the final two points in the fifth set. They’re a great team and we are a great team. I wish we could play them again.”

Although the season was not perfect, Shanahan’s seniors Carlin, Joyce, Maria Ficca, Katie Pisano, Amanda Nickels, and Claire Keating can take great solace in realizing that they provided their school with a storybook campaign that will be extremely difficult to duplicate.

In addition to taking the Ches-Mont League crown for the sixth straight season, the Eagles also won the school’s second district title. Once they won the first round of states, all bets were off.

“We played our best games at the end,” said Carlin. “It was great. We didn’t win this by accident.”

The last point of the match – an ace by Pisano – set off human fireworks.

“We couldn’t help but jump all over the place,” said Joyce. “We went crazy. “

Several Eagles received tournament accolades after the final match. Carlin was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player, Joyce was recognized as the defensive specialist MVP and Ficca joined her two teammates as a first-team, all-tournament selection.

Sandra Young, the school’s assistant athletic director, was thrilled to watch the Eagles make school history, more so because of the quality of inspaniduals that represented the team.

“They are truly women of virtue who love God, one another, Shanahan and volleyball,” Young said.

Tough to beat that.

John Knebels can be reached at