John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

When she entered the gymnasium at Cabrini College Nov. 1, Steph Johnson immediately began feeling a little bit uncomfortable.

One year earlier, she and her teammates from Cardinal O’Hara High School had lost the Catholic League volleyball championship to Archbishop Wood on the same court. It wasn’t only the losing part that stung. It was the fact that O’Hara’s eight-season title streak had come to a screeching halt.

Now there was a chance at redemption, but a very talented and undefeated Archbishop Carroll squad posed a formidable challenge.

“Last year’s loss was very disappointing,” said Johnson, a senior product of Holy Cross School in Springfield, Delaware County. “Just being in the gym brought back some of those feelings. There was so much pressure last year, knowing that we had won eight in a row and were expected to win again. But it was great knowing we had a chance to get rid of those bad feelings.”

Mission accomplished.

After losing the first game of the match rather decisively at 17-25, the Lions rebounded to take the final three games by scores of 25-18, 25-22 and 26-24. When match point – an unsuccessful return of a serve by O’Hara junior Corinne Kelleher – cemented the league title, Johnson and the rest of her teammates reacted with unbridled glee.

Standing next to the net was senior Stacy Pasciolla, who, following match point, was mobbed along with the rest of the starters by a host of euphoric substitutes who stormed the court.

O’Hara’s exhilaration was understandable.

For seniors Pasciolla, Johnson, Michele Fitz and Julie Joyce, this had been the final opportunity to raise the Catholic League championship plaque in front of their always-supportive families, friends and fans. It was also their ability to successfully regain the prestige of being the defending Catholic League champion, and it simultaneously raised the bar for next year’s returning Lions who will be expected to carry on a winning tradition unlike most programs in the Catholic League – in any sport.

“I would describe last year as sad because we had all worked so hard to win, but it was so upsetting to lose,” said Pasciolla, a graduate of St. Francis de Sales School, Lenni. “I think that in the back of all our minds, we felt like we didn’t get the job done and we were expected to win. That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s what we’re used to.”

After AA spanision champion Carroll, which entered the match undefeated but had not played AAA champ O’Hara because the two schools are in different spanisions, won the first game, Pasciolla admitted that she became concerned.

“I was like, ‘Oh boy,'” she said. “But I felt relieved after we won game two and then felt a lot better when we won game three.”

But the fourth game went back and forth and was not decided until 50 points had been produced. Both teams proved they definitely belonged in the Catholic League’s showcase event and should be considered favorites to win their respective district tournaments and make some noise in the PIAA state tournament.

“It’s special when you win a championship, and we had to work hard for this because Carroll is a really strong team,” said O’Hara coach Bill Collins. “After we got past losing the first game, we went back to fundamentals and started being more aggressive.”

Johnson also complimented Carroll.

“We knew they would be good, and we wanted to play them in the championship,” said Johnson. “We had already beaten Wood twice, and that was nice because they had beaten us in the championship last year. So we were excited to play Carroll because they hadn’t lost a match.”

Until now.

John Knebels can be reached at