FAIRBORN — St. Ursula had its chances but once again it was Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame claiming a Division I state volleyball championship.
The Cougars battled to a 25-27, 25-23, 25-19, 26-24 win Saturday over the Arrows at the Wright State University’s Nutter Center, handing St. Ursula its first loss of the season.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the match
It was the second time in three years Mount Notre Dame edged the Arrows for the state crown.
It was a battle of state tournament veterans as it was the 11th appearance for the Cougars (26-3) and 10th for the Arrows. Mount Notre Dame has won seven state titles to its credit while St. Ursula has two.
St. Ursula (29-1) took control midway through the first set as the Arrows translated a 10-12 deficit into a 16-12 lead. The Arrows took advantage of a string of Mount Notre Dame errors and had soon built a sizeable 22-14 lead, but the Cougars clawed their way back and tied it at 25-all.
Junior middle hitter Lauran Graves gave the Arrows the go-ahead point and St. Ursula took the set on a Cougars error on the following play.
The second set was a seesaw battle from start to finish with 13 ties and five lead changes. The Mount Notre Dame middles posed a major problem for St. Ursula.
“They were able to run their middles very well,” St. Ursula coach John Buck said. “They got very aggressive and we knew it was going to be a battle.”
An ace by Cougars defensive specialist Mallory Beyer capped the win for Mount Notre Dame to even the match at one set apiece.
The Arrows, again, built a lead, 12-9, and again the Cougars dismantled it as Mount Notre Dame went on a 6-0 run. The resilient Cougars never trailed again in the set.
“With the schedule we played this year, we had multiple five-set matches and I told them ‘we can fight through this,’” Mount Notre Dame coach Joe Burke said. “It showed the fight in these girls.”
The Cougars’ fight resulted in the Arrows’ frustration.
“It got frustrating and I think we got down on ourselves,” Arrows senior setter Madelyn McCabe said.
While the middles thwarted the St. Ursula defense, the Mount Notre Dame triple block did the same to the Arrows offense.
“We never played a team that was so reliant on their middles,” Arrows defensive specialist Ryann Cox said.
It was more of the same in the fourth set as St. Ursula led 6-0 early, 12-9 midwa, and 21-16 late only to see Mount Notre Dame fight back for the win.
The Cougars finished the match with four players in double figures, including a combined 24 kills for Dani Szczepanski and Sara Priest. Mount Notre Dame’s Christine Chandler led all players with 24 kills. Graves and Elizabeth Coil led the Arrows with 13 and 10 kills, respectively.
“We’ve been preaching toughness all season,” Burke said. “We were down huge and all of the sudden we had set point.
“But we have all the respect in the world for St. Ursula, they are a very well-coached team and they played their hearts out.”