When the subject is high school volleyball in this area, most of the talk in recent years has centered on St.Ursula.
The Arrows earned a reputation as one of Ohio s elite programs after a run of six straight trips to the final four of the Division I state tournament, including a state title in 2004 and runner-up finishes in 2000 and 2005.
But third-year coach Scott Mattera of Notre Dame is hoping Ohio volleyball followers will soon include his City League champion Eagles in those discussions of the state s best programs.
When I took over the program people had talked for years about the potential here at Notre Dame, Mattera said. I was sick of hearing about potential. In fact, we had T-shirts made up that said, Potential is just another way of saying we haven t done anything yet.
Fortunately for me, I came in at the same time Notre Dame got a tremendous class of freshmen players. They had some good seniors ahead of them last year and this year, but that class has turned everything around. It s been a good mix.
The Eagles (21-3), who will face St. Ursula in Saturday s 6 p.m. D-I district final at Perrysburg, have already begun chipping away at the rival Arrows formidable standing.
Last year, Notre Dame ended St. Ursula s 139-match winning streak against teams from the northern half of Ohio, toppling the Arrows in a five-game thriller.
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We ve come a long way, and winning that match was pivotal for us, there s no doubt about that, Mattera said. That was a huge win to break that stranglehold St. Ursula has had against us. We got our foot in the door that night.
After losing a rematch with SUA in last year s district final, also in five games, NDA has rebounded to defeat the Arrows twice this season.
We re still not over that match, and the credit goes to St. Ursula, said Mattera, whose Eagles lost 15-13 in the fifth game of last year s district final. But our girls felt theydeserved to win. They just needed to finish. It s not hard to get these girls fired up talking about that loss.
The first win over SUA this year came in league play, the second in the CL playoff semifinals, ending SUA s run of seven straight league titles. Notre Dame then beat top CL seed Central Catholic in the finals to capture its first City volleyball championship since 1983.
Tuesday s 25-18, 26-28, 25-15, 25-19 win over Bowsher in the D-I district semifinals was the Eagles seventh consecutive win after a tough 30-28, 25-23 loss to perennial Cincinnati power Ursuline Academy at an invitational tournament in Cleveland.
The Eagles have been led by seniors Jordan Goad, Amanda Fioritto and McKenzie Strall, juniors Jessie Batanian and Elisa Duran, and sophomore Paige Roback. Goad is the setter, Fioritto a right-side hitter with one of the area s best serves, Strall the libero, Batanian and Roback outside hitters, and Duran a middle blocker.
We have set a lot of goals, and we have already achieved one of them by winning the City League title, said Goad, who has verbally committed to Cleveland State University. We also want to get to the [state] final four.
Last year it was more of a surprise. It was a whole new thing. We kind of built off that and starting thinking, We don t always have to be second. Now we know we can do it.
The 5-foot-10 Goad daughter of three-time Ohio high school wrestling champion Greg Goad (Swanton and Oak Harbor) is the quarterback on the court.
Jordan Goad is the heart of the team, Mattera said. She makes everything look easy, and she s the reason we ve got four kids with over 100 kills. She s like the perfect point guard in basketball, distributing the ball and running the team.
Goad s work is made easier because of her wide array of attack choices.
It s a huge luxury having those options, said Goad, who has 577 assists and 72 kills. I never have to worry about them not getting their jobs done. I know they can do it.
Roback leads the way with 187 kills, Batanian is next with 169, Fioritto has 135 and Duran has 104.
Paige is an amazingly mature hitter for her age, and she has all the shots, Mattera said. Amanda is fearless in her hitting and her serving. She always goes for it, and we love that. Jessie is our Miss Reliable. She s a stabilizer, the glue that keeps this team together. She always takes good swings and she makes very few errors.
Strall leads the team with 180 digs and 44 aces.
McKenzie has come up huge for us after we graduated so much defense. She grabbed hold of that white [home libero] jersey and won t let go. The biggest thing she brings is consistent serve receive. She s really learned how to read hitters.
Rounding out the varsity are juniors Paige Daney, Angie Clauda, Mary Delaney, Kasey Fought and Leland Austin, sophomore Emily Thetford, and freshman Isolde Hannan.
Mattera, who was the junior varsity coach on John Buck s staff in 2002 and 2003, led those Arrow teams to a 44-3 record and two City JV titles. His volleyball playing background consisted of travel-league play while at Monroe High School, and two years as a setter on the University of Toledo club team.
One of the things he learned at St. Ursula that he thought would best help the Eagle program was instilling a stronger mental approach. To help achieve that, Mattera has established a preseason boot camp, an annual four-day training period in August just after the varsity team is picked.
Camp workouts, which are mostly for physical conditioning and building mental endurance, begin each day at 6 a.m. and proceed for seven to nine hours each day.
It helps change your mental focus, Roback said of the camp. When you re in a long match you re not thinking about being tired, and you keep playing hard.
We have learned to play with confidence without being cocky. And, if things aren t going well, we just change our thinking to a positive aspect.
We ve changed our minds about our program, and now we want to change everybody else s, Mattera said. I love the way we re playing right now. We re a difficult team to scout or to prepare for because we do so many different things.