St. Ursula players, who knew the thrill of victory last year, discover the agony of defeat in the Division I state volleyball final.
FAIRBORN, Ohio - Top-ranked St. Ursula Academy had three chances to salt away a second straight Division I state volleyball championship yesterday, but Cincinnati Seton had other ideas.
Turning the tables on the Arrows (28-1), fourth-ranked Seton (24-5) rallied from a 2-0 deficit in games to take a 20-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-19, 15-12 victory in the final at the Nutter Center, snapping St. Ursula's 57-match winning streak.
In last year's D-I semifinals here, the Saints held a 2-0 lead in games and a 23-19 lead on SUA in Game 3. But Seton lost that game 39-37, squandered another 23-19, then were beaten in the deciding game. The Arrows went on to defeat Cincinnati Mother of Mercy in the title match.
"I said this about a 100 times, but we've slept with that  loss for 365 days," Seton coach Kerry Butkovich said. "There's no question that that's been our driving force. A victory is a victory. No matter who you beat, it's awesome.
"But it was certainly nice to get the opportunity against such a gracious team and such a great team. We took the lessons we learned from last year, we lived with them and we've talked about them. We maintained our composure in tight situations and really answered back."
St. Ursula's winning streak was the longest in Ohio D-I history. The Arrows' last previous defeat came against Cincinnati St. Ursula Academy in the 2003 D-I state semis. Cincy SUA was the nation's top-ranked team that season.
All signs pointed to a repeat title for coach John Buck's Arrows after two games yesterday, and things still looked promising with SUA ahead 19-18 late in Game 3.
But the Saints answered with four straight points to grab the match's momentum, part of a game-ending 7-3 run.
St. Ursula's Abby Walla bumps the ball toward the net against Cincinnati Seton. Walla finished with 14 digs.
"Obviously it was disappointing not to be able to pull one of those last three games out," Buck said. "But, make no mistake about it, that was a pretty good team that beat us.
"The difference was, for a while there, they were digging extremely well. Everything we were hitting, they were digging up, then they would transition out of it. I saw a lot of good volleyball. I wouldn't call it falling apart, they just played a few points better than we did."
Doubt can be a dirty word in volleyball, and that is what might have collectively crept into the Arrows' minds. Either at that point, or perhaps after they bolted to an 8-4 lead in Game 4.
That's when Seton rallied for four straight points on the serve of Emily Kelly, part of a 9-5 surge to a 13-11 lead. The Arrows took their final Game-4 lead at 17-16 on sophomore outside hitter Alliya Drzewiecki's 19th kill of the match. But the Saints were not to be denied, tying the match 2-2 with an impressive 9-2 closing run.
St. Ursula had one more chance to salvage a repeat crown, and led 5-2 early in Game 5. Again, Seton, behind the front-row play of senior middle hitter Emily Sullivan, refused to go away.
After a Seton net violation gave the Arrows their final lead 11-10, Sullivan registered four of her team's last five points on kills.
Drzewiecki had a match-high 24 kills, junior Ashley Heyman had 15, and seniors Allison Florian and Katelyn Schissler added 11 and 7, respectively.
"Usually we come back pretty easily," Drzewiecki said, "but I think we laid back too much. We stepped up too late.
"We always pump each other up, but pumping each other up isn't the same as actually playing on the court. You can say something, but you have to actually do it. I don't think we did what we wanted to do."
SUA was led in digs by senior libero Tighe Westrick (28) and junior defensive specialist Abby Walla (14). Senior setter Emily Florian continued her superb tourney play, with a match-best 57 assists and five kills.
"You have to fight to the end," Allison Florian said. "It's never over until the last point goes down. That's what Seton did, so you have to give them all the credit in the world.
"We've had some big games this year - Central, Mount Notre Dame, Elyria. We've played some good teams and we fought through those. But we kind of fell short at the end."
Megan Griffin, a 6-1 senior middle hitter, topped Seton with 23 kills, followed by Sullivan (18), and senior outside hitter Gina Coffaro (17). Four Saints players ranged between nine and 16 digs, and senior setter Chelsea Graman, who played a greater role as the match progressed, had 55 assists.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.