John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Sometimes athletes have no desire to quit their sport after high school.

Mary Callan started playing volleyball when she was in fifth grade. That was, well … a long time ago. The intriguing thing is that her involvement never ceased, both as a coach and a competitor.

Currently, the head coach at Archbishop Prendergast High School in Drexel Hill, Callan played in adult leagues until about two years ago when she suffered a hip ailment. She hopes to regain her health enough to return to playing the sport. {{more}}

“Loved it from the start,” said Callan, a 1975 graduate of Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, who passed down the love of the game to daughter Janet Newby, a 2000 Prendergast grad and assistant coach at nearby Upper Darby High.

After serving as a CYO coach at St. Andrew Parish in Drexel Hill and an assistant coach at Prendergast for 14 years, Callan took over the varsity program three years ago. And she is fully committed to coaching Prendergast in the years to come.

Although still without a Catholic League championship plaque, Prendergast hasn’t missed the playoffs in two decades. The Pandas lost in the 2000 and 2002 championships; the latter was a classic match against perennial juggernaut Cardinal O’Hara of Springfield.

There is no telling whether the Pandas will finally break through and win a title this year, but they are off to a strong start. With a record of 6-2 through Oct. 11, Prendergast is basically assured – yet again – a playoff spot.

The Pandas recently faced Bryn Mawr’s Country Day School of the Sacred Heart of the Catholic Academies League, and although they were swept in three games, the first was a 27-25 slugfest.

“That’s the kind of effort we have to put out all the time,” said senior captain Angela Sharrer, a product of St. Laurence School in Upper Darby and three-year starter.

“Everybody works very hard at practice, and it shows in the games. We are all there to help each other out,” she said.

As captain, along with senior Kaitlyn Murray, Sharrer takes her leadership responsibilities very seriously.

It’s not enough, Sharrer said, to just preach optimism. She needs to remember to walk the talk when she is having a bad game.

“It’s natural to get down when you make mistakes,” she said. “But you have to try and avoid that. You have to move on to the next play. So if I make a mistake, I can’t be getting all upset and then try and tell someone to keep their head up after they make a bad play.”

Junior setter Christina Urso, arguably Prendergast’s best all-around player, hopes to be captain next year. Labeled by Sharrer as a “great player; she is all about hustle,” Urso is a fearless competitor.

Like Sharrer, Urso started playing volleyball early in grade school. Urso mirrored her teammate and coach when she reminisced about her first experience with the sport.

“I was hooked right from the start,” Urso said. “It’s such an active game; it’s not the kind of sport where you sit around waiting for things to happen. You have to be ready all the time, and you have to want the ball to be hit at you so you can make a play.”

John Knebels can be reached at