Each of the three times Notre Dame and Central Catholic met on the volleyball court this season one thing was certain - they were going to take it to the limit and test one another's wills for more than two hours.
In City League play, Notre Dame edged the visiting Irish in five games, taking the fifth game 15-13. In the CL playoffs at Central, the Irish survived in five, taking the deciding game 15-12.
And, in last night's Division I district semifinals at Perrysburg, the Eagles (15-8) took the rubber match, rallying from a two-game deficit and outlasting Central 22-25, 25-27, 25-17, 25-23, 15-12.
"We're both really good teams, so we're both really competitive," said Notre Dame senior standout Paige Roback, the City League's reigning player of the year. "We like to play hard against them.
"After we got down 2-0, we just sat down, told each other to relax and play confident as a team. We had to play our game, and that was the only thing that mattered."
The win earned Notre Dame a rematch with league rival and third-ranked St. Ursula (22-2), which advanced easily with a 25-20, 25-12, 25-10 win over Northview in last night's second semifinal.
The D-I district championship is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Perrysburg.
Central, which lost the first game in each of its two earlier matches with Notre Dame, changed that trend and looked poised for a sweep after taking the first two games this time.
But the Eagles regrouped before Game 3, pulled out to an early lead of 5-0 and never trailed in pulling closer.
The Irish looked like they had shaken off this dip in play as they took a 20-18 lead in Game 4 on a Jennifer Kowalski kill. But Notre Dame tightened up defensively to even the match at 20 and again at 21, then continued on its 6-1 run for a 24-21 lead.
Central responded with kills from Kowalski and Alexxis Knannlein, but Roback put one down to end that comeback bid and force Game 5.
The Irish jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the deciding game and still led 6-5 before the Eagles closed their crucial 10-2 surge on Shelly DeHenning's point-scoring block to go ahead 12-7.
Central got within 13-11 on Julia Haupricht's block, and made it 14-12 on a Kowalski kill, before Roback capped off her impressive 33-kill match with the game-winner.
"We did better with serve receive, and our blocking was extremely better as the match went on," Roback said. "That last point felt good, but I couldn't have done it without a good set and a good pass from my teammates.
"We're excited about moving on. We really wanted a rematch with St. Ursula, and we've been working for it".
Meghan Smyth added 15 kills and DeHenning nine for the Eagles.
"It's such a heady game," Eagles coach Scott Mattera said. "Volleyball is the most emotional roller-coaster sport there is. After your mistakes you have time between the points where you have to process it and get over it.
"We've spent all season trying to figure out how to get over our mistakes. The first two games tonight we didn't handle it particularly well. Then, in the third, fourth and fifth games, we starting deciding instead of hoping, and it made all the difference."
There was little drama for St. Ursula in taking its 22nd win of the season. Despite a sluggish start which saw the Arrows struggle for offensive continuity in Game 1, St. Ursula never trailed at any point during the match and took just 68 minutes to eliminate the 10-14 Wildcats.
Maggie Burnham topped the Arrows with 12 kills, Cassidy Croci had nine, and Marissa Tashenberg added five.
"I still think there's things we can do to improve," Arrows coach John Buck said. "I don't think we served terribly aggressive tonight, and we started off the match by hitting a lot of balls out of bounds.
"We've got to come in a little better prepared mentally [on Saturday], and start off [sharp] right from the beginning. But the team is moving in the right direction. I see some positive things, like they're working extremely hard in practice and getting the right attitude. They're getting that game-face attitude you need to try to make a run."
After winning the first two games in their CL meeting with Notre Dame, the Arrows eventually needed a fifth game to hold off the upset-minded Eagles.
Last year the District final roles were reversed, as Notre Dame came in as the favorite versus St. Ursula, having beaten the Arrows in league and City playoff matches. But St. Ursula pulled the upset at Perrysburg last October, winning its eighth district title in nine years.
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