It looked like a banner season on the horizon.
The St. Basil’s Academy volleyball team was bringing back a lot of talent to the court and this year would have been a memorable one for the Panthers.
The team was ready to come back, but then they didn’t have a school to represent.
Basil’s closed in June and all of the students had to find a new place to go.
They couldn’t have found a more welcoming home.
“It was devastating because we all loved it there,” said Keira Whalen, a Torresdale resident who spent three years at Basil’s before it closed and is now a senior captain at Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland. “But it would have been even more devastating if we didn’t go to Villa. I think there are 30 girls from Basil’s there, a lot of my friends. It made it a lot easier because you see familiar faces in the hallway.
“We kind of decided that we wanted to stick together and Villa offered us the same tuition. Basil’s was a second home to me, so it was really hard when it closed, but I think it’s a lot easier because I have a new school I love.”
The new school turned out to be a perfect fit right from the get go.
“Right after Basil’s announced it was closing, we played Villa, and they asked us if we wanted to take a tour of the school before the game,” said Rachel Mace, a junior from Port Richmond. “It was a really nice school, and during it we met some girls from Villa and they were so welcoming. It was really nice and we all liked it a lot.”
It was the perfect home to go to school.
And it was the perfect place to play volleyball.
Whalen and Mace were joined by seniors Ryann Moore, Sammi White, Tess Majkut and junior Sophia Majkut as former Basil’s volleyball players who transferred to Villa Joseph Marie. And they didn’t come alone.
Former Panther coach Jessica Lavelle joined the team, serving as a co-coach to Doug Campbell. And so far, the combination of the two teams has worked out quite nicely despite playing in a tough division.
After losing their opening game, the Jems have won 13 of their last 14 games to start the season 13-2.
“We thought it was going to be very hard, but there are a lot of us from Basil’s, so that helped us, it’s nice to have familiar faces,” Whalen said. “But the girls on the team were so welcoming. It took a little while to mesh, it’s hard when you have to join a new team, and it took a little while, but I think we’re all working together now.
“They have definitely made it easier. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been better than I could have expected. They did everything to welcome us. Even our principal from Basil’s is working here now. We wanted to stay at Basil’s, but this is starting to feel like home for everyone.”
Apparently when they feel at home, they play great volleyball.
Depending on the lineup, either four or five former Panthers open the game on the floor for the Jems. Whalen is a starting setter, while Mace starts at outside hitter.
A year ago, this wasn’t the season they envisioned, but it’s definitely working out in their favor.
“I’m really happy that I was picked to be one of the captains,” said Whalen, who played lacrosse, but is unsure if she’ll play this year. “We have three captains and two of us are from Basil’s. That meant a lot to us. They really treated us like it’s our team. And now we really are a team.”
“I think Keira is a great leader,” Mace said. “She is a great leader for everyone, she treats everyone on the team the same, and really wants us all to do well. She’s a great leader, and we’re really close. She actually drives me to school every day. My mom takes me to her house and she takes me the rest of the way.”
Whalen is hoping that her leadership helps the Jems continue their success for the next few weeks. Mace hopes that success continues into next year.
“We have a lot of great seniors, but a lot of juniors, too, so we should be good next year,” Mace said. “It will be easier, I think, because next year we’ll already have that chemistry.”
Whalen will be pulling for her team, but she also has big plans for next year.
“I want to go to the Coast Guard Academy, that’s my main goal,” said Whalen, who wants to continue playing volleyball in college. “I want to become a pilot, I really like engineering and science. It’s very hard to get into, but it’s something that really interests me.
“I take an engineering class and forensic science. It’ll be hands-on learning. You put them together and see how everything works.”