Notre Dame Eagles push their rival St. Ursula to limit in 2-hour match

10/28/2012
BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
St. Ursula advanced with a Division I district volleyball championship Saturday in Perrysburg.
St. Ursula advanced with a Division I district volleyball championship Saturday in Perrysburg.

Notre Dame gave ri­val St. Ur­sula ev­ery­thing it could han­dle in Satur­day’s Divi­sion I dis­trict vol­ley­ball cham­pi­on­ship match, but it wasn’t enough for the Eagles to pull the up­set.

The sec­ond-ranked Ar­rows (24-1) trailed 5-3 early in the de­cid­ing fifth game be­fore fin­ish­ing strong to take a 25-18, 22-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-11 vic­tory be­fore a crowd of more than 700 at Per­rys­burg High School.

PHOTO GALLERY: St. Ursula defeats Notre Dame

“That was a team we ex­pected to play like that,” Buck said of Notre Dame’s ef­fort in de­feat. “They have a lot of se­niors, and they didn’t want their sea­son to be over. They did a great job to­day.

“They pushed us to the limit, and I was re­ally proud of the way our girls turned it around when they got to Game 5. They re­ally pinned their ears back and went af­ter it.”

It was the 12th dis­trict ti­tle in the past 13 years for St. Ur­sula and vet­eran coach John Buck, and they will move on to the re­gional semi­fi­nals 6 p.m. Thurs­day at Bowl­ing Green State Univer­sity’s Stroh Center against Three Rivers Ath­letic Con­fer­ence foe Find­lay.

St. Ur­sula and Find­lay each reached the Divi­sion I state semi­fi­nals last year. The Ar­rows fin­ished as state run­ners-up af­ter win­ning the D-I cham­pi­on­ship in 2010, and Find­lay lost in the semi­fi­nals.

The Ar­rows, who are now 80-3 over­all since the start of the 2010 sea­son, took con­trol early in Game 1, grab­bing a 10-4 lead and never look­ing back.

Game 2 was dif­fer­ent, as the Eagles ral­lied from a 12-6 def­i­cit to lead 15-14; they never again trailed that set.

The Eagles — who had taken 3-1 losses to St. Ur­sula in TRAC reg­u­lar-sea­son play and in the con­fer­ence play­off fi­nal — started poorly again in Game and, af­ter fall­ing be­hind 10-3, got no closer than four points from there.

Re­vers­ing their trend from the ear­lier matches against the Ar­rows, the Eagles (17-8) changed the script in forc­ing a fifth game by sur­viv­ing a back-and-forth duel in Game 4.

After Notre Dame saw the Ar­rows rally from a 12-7 def­i­cit into a a 14-14 tie, the Eagles’ Made­line Smyth ul­ti­mately closed that game with a kill to force a Game 5.

The Eagles grabbed early leads of 2-0 and 5-3 in the race to 15 be­fore com­ing out on the short end to two length mid-game ral­lies.

Ar­rows ju­nior Lau­ren Dau­de­lin closed out the first long point off a block for an 8-6 lead. Notre Dame got called for a touch­ing-the-net vi­o­la­tion on the sec­ond one to re­main down 9-7.

Fol­low­ing a time­out, the Eagles failed to slow St. Ur­sula’s momemtum late.

Soph­o­more Lau­ren Graves slammed a cou­ple kills off quick sets to put St. Ur­sula on the brink at 14-10. Se­nior Mad­die Burn­ham sealed things with her 15th kill of the two-hour match.

“We all stayed pos­i­tive, and we pulled through,” Graves said of the Game-5 fin­ish. “They’re a great team and they played awe­some. I think we had a lit­tle more en­thu­si­asm.”

Katie McKer­nan, the Ar­rows’ only other se­nior, led St. Ur­sula with 19 kills, Graves had 14, and Dau­de­lin added seven.

“It was com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” McKer­nan said of the rea­son the Ar­rows hung on to win. “We came to­gether as a team, and we had the con­fi­dence to win this match.

“I def­i­nitely did not want this to be my last match. We wanted to keep go­ing to re­gion­als and state.”

“We re­ally had what we thought was a good game plan com­ing in, and when we were ex­e­cut­ing that game plan, we were win­ning,” Eagles coach Jeff Pit­zen said. “But when it re­ally mat­tered the most we weren’t fo­cused. That was pretty ob­vi­ous in the last set.

We’re happy to be this far, and we re­ally thought we had a good game plan com­ing in to beat them. We just caught on our heels a cou­ple times and made some men­tal er­rors. You can’t knock St. Ur­sula, They are so men­tally fo­cused. You can never count them out.”

Notre Dame was paced by se­nior Mor­gan Fioritto (20 kills), and se­nior team­mate Pay­ton Bow­yer added 11 for the Eagles.

Con­tact Steve Junga at: sjunga@the­blade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twit­ter@Jun­gaBlade.