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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Eagles end drought; Notre Dame earns first CL volleyball championship since 1983

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Notre Dame players celebrate their victory over Central Catholic in the City League volleyball championship at Waite.
Notre Dame players celebrate their victory over Central Catholic in the City League volleyball championship at Waite.
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On Tuesday night, Notre Dame s volleyball team ended an opponent s long winning streak. Last night the Eagles ended a long drought of their own.

Notre Dame, Ohio s 10th-ranked Division I team, outlasted top-seeded Central Catholic, ranked ninth in D-II, in the second five-game thriller between these two teams this year.

The Eagles prevailed 23-25, 25-23, 25-18, 17-25, 15-12 in the City League championship match before a crowd of more than 1,400 at the Waite Field House.

It was the first CL volleyball title for Notre Dame (18-3) since 1983, and avenged a 3-2 home loss to the Irish (18-4) in league play on Sept. 19.

That s been our goal from day one, third-year Eagles coach Scott Mattera said. We look at that [1983 championship] banner every day. I told them, `We ve got to change that.

These girls have dedicated themselves and done everything we ve asked them to and more, and this is the reward. It feels good.

The Eagles advanced to the final by beating rival St. Ursula here on Tuesday, ending the Arrows seven-year hold on the City crown.

In reversing their fortunes against Central, the Eagles shook off a lackluster Game 4, which saw them fall behind 24-12 before regrouping to regain some rhythm with a late five-point rally.

That run didn t help in Game 4, but it did give Notre Dame an emotional lift approaching the deciding fifth game. The Eagles got a pair of early kills from standout sophomore outside hitter Paige Roback (19 kills) en route to an early 3-1 lead in Game 5.

We were very focused at the end, said Roback, who did much of her damage from the left side. We didn t get too excited or let anything bother us. We stayed with every point.

When we got to Game 5 we just told each other, First to 5, first 10, and then first to 15. If you get those then you definitely win the game.

Although Central would take the lead 5-4 on a kill from junior Ashley Sujkowski, the Eagles regained the lead on back-to-back unforced errors by the Irish and never again trailed. After a kill from junior Jessie Batanian, Notre Dame added four more points on the serve of junior Paige Daney to take an 11-6 edge.

Central Catholic s Angie Clauda and Notre Dame s Ashley
Sujkowski reach for the ball in last night s City League final.
Central Catholic s Angie Clauda and Notre Dame s Ashley Sujkowski reach for the ball in last night s City League final.
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Central got within 13-11 on Ashley Frazier s match-best 22nd kill and later 14-12 on an Eagle net violation, but Frazier s final attack sailed long to end the match and Notre Dame s title drought.

We just didn t get the block closed up, Central coach Melissa Belcher said of falling in Game 5. Our middles didn t get over there quick enough on their left side and didn t really give our back row anything to look at to get a good dig.

In addition to the power work of Roback and Batanian (10 kills) on the outside, the Eagles got precision setting from senior Jordan Goad, sound middle work from juniors Elisa Duran (8 kills) and Mary Delaney, strong serving from senior Amanda Fioritto, and valuable all-around play from senior libero McKenzie Strall.

Our team is a great team, Goad said. Everyone can hit and everyone can do anything they need to, so I really have so many options. It doesn t matter where I set it, I just know they re going to get it done.

A crucial factor for Central in defeat may have been the loss of senior middle hitter Kirsti Helldobler, who left with an apparent left knee injury with the Irish up 1-0 in games and ahead 18-17 in Game 2.

After losing Game 3, Central got a boost from senior Chrissy Ankenbrandt in Game 4, and senior libero Amanda Gray and senior setter Kelsey Gerken were effective throughout.

Seniors Amanda Arnold and Amber Wiczynski added 10 kills and Sujkowski 8 for the Irish, who were 10-0 in league play.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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