FINDLAY — St. Ursula Academy wasn’t exactly pleased after letting the first game of its Three Rivers Athletic Conference volleyball championship match slip away Thursday night against archrival Notre Dame Academy.
But the Arrows (20-1) didn’t waste any time dwelling on that failure, and instead used it as motivation in rolling to a 23-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-14 victory at the University of Findlay’s Croy Gymnasium.
The win lifted St. Ursula — Ohio’s second-ranked Division I team — to its second straight TRAC title and pushed the Arrows’ overall record since the start of the 2010 season to 76-3 overall.
That run included a D-I state title in 2010, and a state runner-up finish last year.
“We talked after the first game and said, ‘Hey, we let that one slip away.’ ” St. Ursula coach John Buck said. “We had total control of that game until the very end.
“They put a big push on, and we couldn’t get out of that rotation. We told the girls not to dwell on that and to keep looking forward. I was really proud of the way they were able to refocus and not let that affect their future play.”
Senior setter/hitter Katie McKernan led the way with a team-high 16 kills and 22 assists. Maddie Burnham, the Arrows only other senior, added 13 kills, Lauren Daudeline added nine kills, and sophomore Maurissa Leonard was the defensive star with 24 digs.
“Maurissa Leonard has been one of the best defensive specialists that’s ever played in this program, and she’s only a sophomore,” Buck said.
"A ball that a lot of people are thinking would ordinarily be down, she’s digging. And, not only does she dig it, she gets it to the setter so we can get a swing out of it. That’s a huge plus for us.”
St. Ursula seemed poised to take Game 1 with a late 23-18 lead, but then watched the Eagles erase that advantage by rallying for seven straight points to stun the Arrows. Senior Christy Ohlinger’s block for a point clinched the win for Notre Dame.
“We came out pretty flat the first game,” McKernan said, “but that sort of woke us up when we lost that game. The second, third and fourth games, we wanted to come out strong and beat them three straight after that. We did not want to go to five.”
The Arrows regrouped immediately, jumping out to a quick 8-3 lead in Game 2, and Notre Dame (15-7) got no closer than three points from there.
St. Ursula followed that pattern in Game 3, this time storming to a 7-2 lead. After pulling back within 8-6 on a kill from Stephanie Comte, however, the Eagles gave up back-to-back kills to McKernan, and never again got closer than three.
Notre Dame led 6-4 in Game 3 before the wheels started to come off. St. Ursula reeled off six straight points riding the serve of sophomore Ryann Cox, and remained in control to the end.
“After the first game we had some momentum,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Pitzen said, “but then we played reckless. Obviously St. Ursula played some very good volleyball, but we had a shot. We made too many mental errors. We’d get behind and it’s hard to catch up to a team like that," Pitzen asserted.
"That was our issue. We have to tweak a few things in our defense, and our blockers did not accomplish the goal that we set for them. Too many balls got through. Our blocks were late, and our defense wasn’t set up outside of the block, he said.”
The Eagles got a team-best 14 kills from senior Morgan Fioritto, nine from senior Payton Bowyer, and five from senior Morgan Loucks in defeat.
“We served a little more aggressively after that first game, and we were hitting the spots we wanted to serve to,” Buck said. “Fioritto was having a field day on us, and we couldn’t really slow her down. But what we were able to do is get them out of their system where they weren’t able to get the ball to her as much.”
Notre Dame had advanced to the TRAC tournament final by upsetting Findlay, Ohio’s fourth-ranked D-I team, in four games here on Monday night. St. Ursula defeated Central Catholic in four games in Monday’s other TRAC semifinal. The Arrows close regular-season play with a match at eighth-ranked Dublin Coffman on Saturday.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461 or onTwitter @JungaBlade.