St. Ursula had ruled City League volleyball in the 2000s, so it was perhaps fitting that the Arrows closed their decade of dominance last night by returning to the top with an impressive 25-9, 25-15, 25-20 victory over host Central Catholic in the league's playoff championship.
Coach John Buck's team, which ranks No. 3 in the Division I state coaches poll, used a strong service game right out of the blocks to grab an 11-1 lead in Game 1 and was never seriously threatened in pushing its season record to 19-1.
The Arrows began the decade by reeling off seven straight City championships (2000-06) and reached the final four of the D-I state tournament the first six of those years, winning a state title in 2004 and finishing as runner-up in 2000 and 2005.
But the last two seasons saw St. Ursula's rival, Notre Dame, win its first two City championships after eliminating the Arrows in the playoff semifinals both times.
"It was a weird feeling getting back here," Buck said. "It just didn't seem like City finals when we weren't in them, because we had a long run of them.
"But it sure was nice to get back in it this year. They were focused. This was one of the goals they wanted, to capture back the title."
Notre Dame's two-year reign ended Tuesday after a tough five-game semifinal loss to Central.
The Fighting Irish (16-6) - who won a D-II state crown in 2007 but have not captured a CL title since 1999 - couldn't muster up much of a fight in this match, not unlike their 25-10, 25-16, 25-12 league loss at St. Ursula last week.
Central's problem? The Arrows had too many weapons, both offensively and defensively.
"We tried to change our defensive strategy against their outsides and still weren't successful putting up a block," Irish coach Melissa Belcher said. "The middles weren't there closing in.
"We finally started to put some things together in the third game, but our service defense killed us in the first game, and our outsides really didn't have a big match tonight like they should have."
Kelsey Reiner, one of six sophomore's in Buck's 11-player rotation, led the attack with 13 kills. Junior Maggie Burnham had eight kills and sophomores Erin Williams and Cassidy Croci six each.
"We've been working so hard in the gym the last couple weeks, and we're really happy to see it finally paying off for us," said senior Marissa Tashenberg, who added three kills. "We're getting ready for the state run, and we're excited to have [the CL title] back."
Junior Veronica Zimmerman served up six aces, senior Libby Dachenhaus led in digs with nine, and senior Molly Pfohl and sophomore Madison Strall contributed five digs apiece. Sophomores Madison Haupricht and Emma Romstadt rounded out the Arrows' deep and potent rotation.
"Our passing was on, our hitters were on, our blocking was on and our serves were tough," Pfohl said. "Everything was working."
The Arrows' only loss of the season came against top-ranked and unbeaten Cincinnati Ursuline. St. Ursula closes the regular season with two more top-10 tests at home, facing fifth-ranked Rocky River Magnificat tomorrow and 10th-ranked Findlay Wednesday.
"This team still has room to grow," Buck said. "There's still some inconsistencies where we fall into some lulls. But we're learning and getting better at it."
"If you want to make a big [tourney] run, you've got to be able to sustain this level all the time, regardless of what's on the other side of the net."
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