DAYTON - St. Ursula Academy got about as close as it could to winning the Division I state volleyball championship yesterday at Wright State University's Nutter Center.
The upset-minded sixth-ranked Arrows (28-2) had just rallied for four straight points on the serve of junior Ashlei Nofzinger to take an 11-10 lead in the third and deciding game of their title match against fourth-ranked Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame, which seemed to be coming unraveled down the stretch.
But the Cougars (25-3) regained their composure and rallied for the final five points to close out a 10-15, 15-5, 15-11 win over St. Ursula and a third consecutive state championship.
St. Ursula thus matched Perrysburg (Class AAA second place in 1981) for the Toledo area's best finish in the Ohio big-school (Class AAA or Division I) volleyball tournament.
“The momentum was going our way and then we started playing conservative instead of aggressive,” Arrows coach John Buck said. “It's easy to say (as a coach), but it's hard to do on the floor.”
St. Ursula freshman Sarah Florian goes for a block against Liz Engel of Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame. Florian had five in the match.
Kelly Morgan, the Arrows' nemesis on the serve throughout the match, served out the final five points. Morgan, a setter who also topped MND with 27 assists in the match, served on 15 of her team's 42 points.
The most dominant Cougar player was 5-6 senior Krista Mestancik, who had 13 kills on 40 attacks and also led both teams with 22 defensive digs.
“At that point (11-10 lead), I think we started looking at the scoreboard and watching that instead of watching the game,” Buck said of the Game-3 finish. “We started trying to keep the ball in play and let (MND) make the mistakes. You can't do that against a really good team. You have to keep it aggressive.”
It was simple for Buck to summarize the deciding factors after the emotional ebb and flow of this tightly contested 91-minute battle, which included 97 sideouts and ended with his players in tears. But he was also quick to remind his players how far they had come after a 13-11 record last year.
“I told them not to get caught up in the moment,” Buck said of the obvious disappointment. “Everybody kept wanting to talk about the future, well now we can. I think the future's really bright in our program.”
St. Ursula's Kaycie Carr finds it tough to get back on her feet after she couldn't get to a smash by MND.
St. Ursula's 10-player mix had two seniors (back row players Lauren Berlacher and Alex Parrish), six juniors, sophomore hitter Colleen Slattery, and freshman standout Sarah Florian, a second-team All-Ohio player. By contrast, seven of the 10 players in the Cougars' rotation were seniors, with a junior, a sophomore and a freshman mixed in.
“When it came down to the end, we just didn't have enough to finish but, all in all, we did really well,” Sarah Florian said. “I'm excited for next year. Since we've been here now, we'll know better what to expect, and we'll definitely go for the gold.”
After St. Ursula had closed out its Game-1 victory on back-to-back digs from junior setter Kaycie Carr - one for a sideout and the next for the game-clinching point - the Cougars' defense proved to be the difference.
Cougar coach Donna Mechley felt St. Ursula showed considerable poise in its first state final, noting that it was her team that made more mistakes early on.
“I think we were almost too calm,” Mechley said. “We weren't as scrappy as we normally are. It was a very good match, tight the whole time. We really had to keep our composure because St. Ursula didn't back down one bit.”
“It wasn't falling for us, and they're an awesome team,” Arrow junior Elizabeth Cron said. “They are very well-rounded and, when it mattered, they put the ball down. That's what it came down to.”
The Cougars also kept St. Ursula from putting it down.
“The blocked it really well,” Nofzinger said. “Personally, I had a very hard time hitting today. I didn't get into my game. It was hard to find a weakness in their game. But this is a big motivator for us to come back here next year.”
The Arrows' usually aggressive attacking game - neutralized by Mount Notre Dame's back-row resiliency - grew tentative.
“I think our level of intensity dropped off after the first game,” junior Erica Florian said. “Once they started coming at us, I think we became a little intimidated. But we're going to be back next year. We're going to be strong and ready to beat them.”
MATCH STATS: St. Ursula - (kills) Nofzinger 11, S. Florian 9, Cron 8, Carr 5, E. Florian 2, Slattery 2; (blocks) S. Florian 5, Cron 2, Carr 2, Slattery 2, Nofzinger 1; (assists) Carr 27, E. Florian 2; (digs) E. Florian 17, Nofzinger 13, S. Florian 11, Carr 9, Romano 7, Dzierwa 6, Berlacher 6, Cron 5. Totals: 154 attackes, 37 kills, 29 attack errors, 29 assists, 74 digs, 19 blocks (7 team).
Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame - (kills) Mestancik 13, Cherry 9, Burke 8, McAllister 8, Meyer 6, Engel 4, Morgan 2, Tobias 1; (blocks) Engel 5, Cherry 4, Meyer 2; (assists) Morgan 27, Rohlfs 17, Burke 3, Cherry 1, Meyer 1; (digs) Mestancik 22, Tobias 16, Engel 16, Morgan 8, Lovaglio 5, Meyer 4, Burke 1, Rohlfs 1, McAllister 1. Totals: 167 attacks, 51 kills, 32 attack errors, 29 assists, 74 digs, 17 blocks (7 team).