St. Ursula’s Lauran Graves, center, hits the match winner past Columbus DeSales defenders Emily Durbin, left, and Kenya Cason during a Division I state semifinal. St. Ursula (29-0) won 3-0.
SPECIAL TO BLADE/SKIP PETERSON
FAIRBORN, Ohio — Top-ranked St. Ursula stayed unbeaten in dominant fashion Thursday, needing just 63 minutes to defeat fourth-ranked Columbus St. Francis DeSales 25-16, 25-10, 25-16 in a Division I state volleyball semifinal at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
The win sends the Arrows (29-0) to their sixth state championship match in the last 14 years. This is their 10th final four appearance in that span.
“I don’t know if that was the best we’ve played all year,” 18th-year Arrows coach John Buck said. “What they did the best was they played in the moment, one point at a time. Only for a short period of time did we let [DeSales] have a little bit of a run.”
St. Ursula will meet third-ranked Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame (25-3) for the state championship on Saturday.
Junior Lauran Graves led the balanced Arrows attack with 11 kills, senior Lauren Daudelin had 10 kills, and sophomores Emily Lydey and Morgan Rectenwald added six apiece.
In all, the Arrows turned their 99 total attacks into 42 kills against the Stallions (26-2).
Equally impressive was St. Ursula’s defensive effort against DeSales’ attack game, which managed to convert just 21 of 106 attacks into kills. Stallions standout outside hitter Kenya Cason was basically held in check.
“Overall, you’re not going to stop somebody,” Buck said of defending Cason. “But when she had 50 attempts and 13 kills, I’m real proud of the way the defense played today.”
Junior Maurissa Leonard topped the Arrows with 23 digs, freshman Jayme Cox had 15, and senior Madelyn McCabe and junior Ryann Cox added eight and seven digs, respectively.
“Our blockers were setting up perfect, so I could set up around them and it was much easier to dig [Cason],” Leonard said. “They were getting right on her shoulder, which is where they needed to be.”
Daudelin had four block assists, and Elizabeth Coil and Lydey added two each.
“It was so important for us to just go all out for very ball,” Ryann Cox said of the defensive tone. “That mentality really got us going in the back row, and our block did a great job up front.”
McCabe led the team in assists with 21, and Lydey had 12.
“We came into this match knowing that we had to outserve their passers,” McCabe said. “That was our main goal, and I feel like we did that.”
The Arrows bolted to a quick 12-2 lead with eight kills a two aces before a seemingly tentative Stallions squad had one of either.
St. Ursula weathered a 7-1 midgame DeSales rally to within 20-14, regrouping to close out a 25-16 win.
“We ran into a bit of a buzz saw today,” DeSales coach Andy Feltz said. “St. Ursula played lights out. Very few errors on their side.
“It was going to come down to serving and passing. They served great, and we passed poorly. We served mediocre, and they passed great. We were out of system a lot, and they were in system a lot. When they’re in system, they’re tough to beat.”
Following the first-game script, the Arrows again jumped out to a 12-2 lead in Game 2, stretched it to 20-5 against the overmatched Stallions, and finished with a 25-10 victory for a 2-0 match lead.
Feltz said that the Stallions had a game plan to counteract the Arrows’ strengths, but quoted an famous boxer when evaluating how it worked out.
“Like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get smacked in the mouth,’ ” Feltz quipped.
DeSales was ahead 9-7 in the third game until St. Ursula’s third big surge closed the match. Graves started it with her eight kills, the point in a 14-2 run that gave the Arrows a 21-11 lead.
The Arrows can set a school record for victories in a season if they win their third D-I championship. Their 2004 state champions were 29-0, and the 2010 championship team finished 28-1. They were state runners-up in 2000, 2005, and 2011.