A crowd estimated at 1,800, perhaps the biggest to ever watch a CL volleyball contest, got its money's worth in a match that ebbed and flowed right down to the wire.
In the end, top-ranked St. Ursula Academy, the four-time defending CL champion, had a little bit more in the tank and survived the five-game classic 25-18, 23-25, 25-19, 21-25, 15-11 over the ninth-ranked Irish, and extended its winning streak to 56 matches in CL league and playoff action since the start of the 2000 season.
St. Ursula (17-0, 10-0 CL) will likely meet Central (17-2, 9-1) again in the City League playoff finals Oct. 14 at Waite, and could meet a third time in district tournament play.
"We're ranked No. 1 but there's really not a whole lot of difference between us,'' St. Ursula coach John Buck said. "This is just Round 1. There's two more to go. Both teams brought their A games today, and I was proud of the way our girls hung in there and fought.''
The Arrows never trailed in Game 1, rolling from a 13-13 tie to outscore the Irish 12-5 down the stretch - led by the net play of senior Hayley Wiemer, who paced SUA with 16 kills in the match.
Allison Florian had 14 kills, Alison Mugler 13, and Brittany Fox 9 for the Arrows.
"We knew however long it was going to take that we were going to come through,'' Wiemer said. "We have been psyched up for this match, and Central has been psyched up for this match. We knew it was going to be a tough battle all the way through, and everyone came together.''
Central took control of the momentum and the score early in Game 2, garnering a 20-12 lead. But the Irish had to hold off a furious SUA rally down the stretch to even the match.
During that rally, St. Ursula seemed to get Central out of the offensive and defensive rhythm it had created in winning the second game. SUA grabbed an early 2-1 lead in the third game and never relinquished it.
"We knew that we had to keep pushing the whole time,'' Mugler said. "It was going to go both ways and each team was going to make mistakes, but we were the ones that pulled through at the end.''
The momentum in this see-saw battle stayed in the Arrows' favor until late in the fourth game with SUA ahead 17-12 and looking to close things out. But Central regained its composure and went back on the offensive. It was enough push for the Irish to rally for a 25-21 win and force a fifth and final game to 15 points.
"I think they got us a little intimidated by their block and we just needed to regroup and get our passing back,'' Central coach Denise Wiczynski said of her team's lull.
"The whole key to coming back was to just play our game and quit worrying about what they were doing. That's something we tried to tell them for the last week. In the last game we didn't close our block very well, and that's been our strength all year.''
In Game 5, SUA reclaimed the aggressor's role long enough to forge a 13-9 lead, then held on to win on Fox's match-ending kill.
Central got 15 kills from junior front-row standout Ellen Herman, and eight apiece from junior Margot Joniec and freshman Ashley Frazier.