UPPER DARBY — Emily Collins had a puzzled look on her face.
The senior libero from Cardinal O’Hara did not know why play was stopped midway through the first set of the Lions’ 3-0 Catholic League volleyball victory over Bonner-Prendergast Tuesday afternoon.
She was even more bewildered when her longtime friend, Holly Ferry, came out of the stands with a bouquet of flowers in her hands, which Ferry then handed to O’Hara head coach Bill Collins, Emily’s father.
“I was looking around seeing who they were for,” Collins said. “I asked around and everyone said, ‘They’re for you.’ I was like, ‘Oh.’”
The stoppage was part of a well-devised plan by her father, with the help of the coaches and players at Bonner-Prendie, to commemorate a milestone in Collins’ career. With her first dig, she became the career program leader in that category, breaking a tie with former O’Hara standout and current Springfield coach Sue (Caramanico) McAndrews.
Her father began planning the special moment last week after Emily Collins tied the mark in a 3-0 victory over Archbishop Wood. Since it was an away match Bill Collins called Bonner-Prendie coach Mary Callan to see if it would be OK to stop the match and Callan, and Bonner-Prendie athletic director Brian Wagner were on board with the idea.
“Emily’s a great player,” Callan said. “I’ve known her since she was a little tiny thing. Volleyball is a team sport. There’s a lot of camaraderie. We get along with O’Hara so we were willing to do it.”
Planning the surprise was the easy part. Pulling it off was difficult. Emily Collins would have known something was up if she saw flowers in the stands before the game, so Bill Collins had the bouquet stashed outside the gym and gave his son, Billy, instructions to get the flowers at the appropriate moment.
“Everyone knew but me,” Emily said. “I had no idea.”
That’s what made the moment special. All of her teammates and many of the Pandas knew of the plan, but none spilled the beans to Collins.
“It wasn’t too hard to keep it a secret,” O’Hara junior Bridget McGuinn said. “While we were playing we didn’t think about it. I remembered once the game was stopped.”
Collins added 13 more digs to finish with 14 and raise her career total to 935.
“It means a lot,” she said of the record. “I’ve been playing this sport my whole life and I’ve been part of O’Hara my whole life because my dad’s been coaching since I was like, 4.”
The Lions used nine kills and 10 blocks from senior co-captain Siobhan Boylan and eight kills and eight digs from McGuinn to take the 25-18, 25-11, 25-23 victory over the feisty Pandas (1-2). Jasmine Sullivan pitched in with 10 assists, five digs, three kills and an ace.
Bonner-Prendie didn’t go quietly thanks to solid play from Erin O’Brien (10 assists), Abbie Lance (10 digs), Sam Lachette, Omotayo Ogunbiyi, Alyssa Gannon and Kiera Henrich, who pitched in with three kills each. The Pandas bounced back from a 7-1 deficit and cut the lead to one before the Lions regained control and pulled away and erased a 10-point deficit in the third set to take a 22-20 lead, before O’Hara recorded four of the last five points to clinch the victory.
“This is a learning experience for my girls,” Callan said. “Some of them are pretty young so we’ll take it one step at a time.”
This season is new territory for everyone due to the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, the Catholic League planned to play its fall sports in the spring and then reversed course. That forced the league to forgo the traditional Catholic League playoffs for a series of classification games to determine which teams would represent District 12 in the abbreviated PIAA tournament. Archbishop Carroll will be the Class 4A representative, while O’Hara will battle Wood, Lansdale Catholic and St. Hubert for the spot in Class 3A. That’s fine with everyone involved.
“It’s just good to be playing,” Boylan said. “Since we were first told that we weren’t going to be having a season it feels great to be playing again. We were thinking we weren’t going to have anything.”