St. Ursula Academy player Maurissa Leonard returns a serve against Central Catholic High School during the second game. The Arrows won in three games.
With a charged-up home crowd at fever pitch late in Game 2 of its Three Rivers Athletic Conference volleyball match against powerhouse St. Ursula on Thursday night, Central Catholic had a game point on the Arrows with a chance to even the match and potentially inject more enthusiasm into the Sullivan Center.
Instead, St. Ursula (7-0, 2-0 TRAC) got a game-tying kill from 6-foot-2 senior standout Maddie Burnham, took a one-point lead when a Central attack sailed long, and eventually took a 28-26 victory that basically burst the bubble on the upset chances of the Irish (3-3, 1-1).
Junior Lauren Daudelin delivered the final two kills in that game, and her Arrows went on to a 3-0 match win with a 25-19 victory in Game 3.
St. Ursula -- with just four players returning to its varsity roster from a 2011 team that finished 28-1 with a loss in the Division I state final last November -- seemed to be cruising early after taking a dominant 25-13 win in Game 1.
But, whatever miscues that plagued Central at the outset, first-year coach Jen Bronikowski and her Irish righted the ship in Game 2.
Trailing 15-14 in that game, Central managed to tighten up its defensive execution and then caught fire on the serve of senior Jen Vliet and used a 6-0 run to take a 20-15 lead.
"Blocking is very important for us," Bronikowski said of Central's improved defense after Game 1. "We need to set a block so that our defense can read what's going to happen. I think we did a better job of that in Game 2. It was not perfect, and we definitely have a lot of work to do, but we'll get better."
The young Arrows squad, with its lone two seniors (Burnham and Katie McKernan) trying to stem the tide, suddenly seemed to be reeling.
St. Ursula had fallen behind 22-16 when veteran coach John Buck called a timeout to settle things down.
The Arrows responded with a 6-0 surge to tie the score, survived the subsequent game point and stayed the course down the stretch.
Central Catholic's Kaitlin Bronikowski dives to save a ball during the Irish's 25-13, 28-26, 25-19 loss to St. Ursula, which returned just four players this season.
"It was 22-16 and I told them I expected them to win that game," Buck said. "I said, 'You can do it. Let's just dig down, don't look at the scoreboard and just play every point.' They hung in there, they came back, they fought and they won.
"It was about controlling the first ball so we could get some good swings. We started to get a few blocks at the net, and we just became a little more aggressive, like we needed to be."
Burnham, who topped the Arrows with 11 kills, ended the match with a free ball she pounded down at the net.
"This [atmosphere] really got us pumped up to play and things are starting to come together," Burnham said "The new girls are really helping us out a lot.
"They did great. I know when I was a freshman and a sophomore, when I would go in, I'd get a little nervous. They didn't show it at all.
"We work on a lot of drills at practice that have to do with us finishing. I think that helps us get used to it, and it doesn't put as much pressure on us in matches."
St. Ursula also got seven kills from sophomore Morgan Finn, five from sophomore Lauran Graves, and four apiece from McKernan and Daudelin.
The Arrows have not lost a regular-season match since early in their 28-1 state championship season of 2010.
Central Catholic was led in kills by freshman Megan Korelewski, and juniors Jane Emmenecker and Sierra Sedlak added five and four kills, respectively.
"We're still trying to figure out who our go-to hitters are," Bronikowski said, "and we need a good serve-receive pass to make sure that ball is set pretty well.
"Our kids didn't quit. They kept coming back and fighting. But St. Ursula controlled the tempo, and that's an issue. We want to make sure when the ball's with us, we're controlling the tempo."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.