St. Ursula kept alive its quest for a perfect volleyball regular season Thursday night, taking a 3-0 victory over visiting rival Notre Dame to win its third straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship.
The top-ranked Arrows (21-0) also remained unbeaten in conference play over that span, winning all 21 TRAC matches plus all nine conference tournament matches since the conference began in 2011.
Leading the way in a balanced attack at the net in this title match was Lauran Graves, who had 10 kills. Elizabeth Coil added eight, Morgan Finn and Emily Lydey had five each, and Lauren Daudelin mixed in four.
PHOTO GALLERY: St. Ursula vs. Notre Dame
It was St. Ursula’s defense that ultimately cracked the Eagles.
“Our defense is awesome,” Graves said. “We practice so much on that. [The back row players] read the hitters so well. We try to block them at the net but, if we don’t, we know they’re going to get it back up for us.
“It’s just awesome play here and be able to do well with our teams. It’s been awesome the last three years.”
Lydey also had a team-high 16 assists, and fellow setter and senior team-leader Madelyn McCabe added 12.
“This was very important for our team to get done,” McCabe said of the third TRAC title in a row. “We set this as one of our goals every year. Not necessarily to go undefeated, but we always want to win our league. That’s the first step.
“We all came together, and we tweaked what we needed to, and we pushed each point. We did what we needed to do.”
The Arrows, who are bidding for the fifth unbeaten regular season in school history, have a nonconference match remaining against Dublin Coffman on Saturday in their regular-season finale.
St. Ursula’s prior perfect regular seasons came in 2001, 2004, 2005, and 2011.
Win No. 21 was never in doubt once the Arrows survived a strong first-game effort by the Eagles (12-10), who were still within a point (19-18) before St. Ursula surged late on the serve of freshman Jayme Cox to outscore Notre Dame 6-1 down the stretch to win 25-19.
Until that juncture, Notre Dame seemed poised to match St. Ursula defensively. But the stingy Arrows eventually wore down the younger Eagles and rolled to a 25-13 win in Game 2.
“This is a defensive team, and our back row play has been phenomenal,” Arrows coach John Buck said. “A team thinks they might be getting a couple kills, and these girls dig them up.
“Not only do they dig them up, but we end up getting something out of it [on attack]. They don’t just keep it alive. I believe that starts to wear on the other team after a while. Offense will win you some games, but if you want to win championships, you’ve got to have defense, and this is a good defensive team.”
The pivotal stretch in that game involved the service run of Ryann Cox, who took St. Ursula from a modest 7-4 lead to a commanding 13-4 edge.
The Eagles got no closer than eight points from there.
Notre Dame did regroup in Game 3, however, rallying from an early 10-7 deficit to a 16-15 lead on a kill from Maddy Smyth.
But St. Ursula responded to that brief threat with a 6-0 surge to take control and push toward their 12th league title in the past 14 years. Nine of those titles came between 2000 and 2010 in the City League.
Lydey served five of those six consecutive points, including an ace, and the match ended on an ace from Maurissa Leonard to cap the 25-20 victory Game 3 victory.
Notre Dame was led in kills by Smyth with 10, and Eagles teammates Cassie Gillespie and Molly Walters added seven and five kills, respectively.