NORWALK — For the ninth time in the last 13 years, the St. Ursula volleyball team will be heading to Dayton for the Division I state semifinals.
The second-ranked Arrows (26-1) locked up this trip by showing their dominance in the first two games today against North Royalton, then a bit of their trademark resiliency in the third game to take a 25-14, 25-18, 29-27 regional final victory at Norwalk High School.
At the end, when the 11th-ranked Bears (22-5) appeared ready to extend the match to a fourth game, St. Ursula’s two seniors — Katie McKernan and Maddie Burnham — were there to seal the deal.
“No doubt that we relied on our seniors there,” Arrows coach John Buck said. “It takes a team effort to get a win. But, sometimes you need those seniors to step up, and boy did they step up big time for us.”
The Arrows, now 82-3 during the last three seasons, were D-I state champions in 2010 and runners-up last year. The will play in a state semifinal 4 p.m. Thursday at the Nutter Center at Wright State University against sixth-ranked Cincinnati Ursuline (21-6).
Ursuline is the only team to beat St. Ursula this season, taking a tight 26-28, 25-23, 25-23 victory against the Arrows back on Sept. 15 in a weekend three-gamer played at Vandalia Butler.
McKernan, a 6-foot setter/hitter, had four of her 11 kills after North Royalton held a 25-24 lead in Game 3.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” McKernan said. “We’ve been down. We wanted to come back and we knew we could come back. We wanted to keep up our energy, which we lacked in that third game.
“It’s great going three years in a row. It’s always great going down to the Nutter Center and we’re excited as a team.”
Burnham had already extended the game on her 11th kill with the Bears up 24-23, and her 12th kill ended the match to send her and McKernan to their third straight trip to the final four.
“It feels great and I’m so glad the younger girls get to go this time,” Burnham said. “It’s a great experience and I’m so excited.
North Royalton never gave up. They’re a great team. Our team just really pulled it out in the end.”
Coming off wins in district play against Three Rivers Athletic Conference foes Notre Dame and seventh-ranked Findlay, TRAC champion St. Ursula breezed through Game 1 versus the Bears.
The Arrows never trailed, jumping out to an 11-3 lead and never allowing North Royalton to get closer than four points from there. After a kill from Arrows sophomore Morgan Finn gave St. Ursula a 24-14 lead, a Bears net violation closed out that game.
Game 2 was more of a competitive, back-and-forth duel, with North Royalton within 17-15 before St. Ursula surged to an 8-3 finish to take a 2-0 lead in games.
A kill from sophomore Lauran Graves put the Arrows on the brink at 24-18, and the game ended when a dump attempt by the Bears’ Nicole Fortuna sailed out of bounds.
St. Ursula could not shake the Bears in the deciding third game, which saw seven lead changes and 12 ties.
The Arrows looked ready to close things, holding a 22-18 lead after Burnham kill. But some lengthy rallies suddenly had St. Ursula looking tentative on the attack, and North Royalton capitalized with a 6-2 run to go up 24-23 when a Burnham attack sailed long.
Buck called a timeout to settled his team, and that’s when McKernan and Burnham rose to the occasion.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Burham said. “Everybody’s finding their place on the team and we’re really starting to pick it up.”
Graves contributed 11 kills for the balanced Arrows, junior Lauren Daudelin had seven, and Finn added three as St. Ursula won its 16th straight match.
Melissa Kozik led the Bears with eight kills, Rachel Krikke and Katie Baird had six each, and Kendra Sanelli added six for North Royalton.
Since 2000, St. Ursula has won two state titles (2004 and 2010), and been runner-up three times (2000, 2005, 2011).
“It’s always an honor to get down there,” Arrows coach John Buck said. “A lot of teams never get there, and we’ve been blessed to get there nine of the last 13 years.
“It’s a testament to the coaching staff, the kids and the school. It takes all of that to be able to do it. I’m just so glad for the two seniors. You always want to make sure the seniors go out doing the best they can do.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.