NORWALK - St. Ursula ran into an unstoppable force named Deme Morales who had 40 kills last night for Amherst Steele in a Division I volleyball regional semifinals.
Morales, who led the Comets to a 25-23, 14-25, 26-24, 25-22 win, has 510 kills this season. The junior is being recruited by more than 25 Division I colleges.
St. Ursula junior Maggie Burnham had 24 kills, but the Arrows finish with a 23-3 record.
At just 5-foot-6, Morales still played most of the game above the net as the Comets' offense flowed through her.
"We knew [Morales] would be the player we had to stop and she had a real nice game," St. Ursula coach John Buck said.
Neither team led by more than three points in the first set and the Arrows seized a 23-22 edge. But Morales ended it with three straight points for a 25-23 win. St. Ursula then controlled the second set and never trailed, jumping out to leads of 5-0, 8-1 and 12-5.
Veronica Zimmerman and Burnham teamed to block Morales for a 16-9 edge. Sophomore Cassidy Croci had two of her nine kills in the second to help the Arrows win 25-14.
The third set featured 10 ties, including 24-24. The Comets went up 25-24 for their first lead since they held a 10-9 advantage on a Morales ace. They then went up 2-1 in the match.
"I felt we played a little tentative," Buck said. "I thought we needed to just swing away. But I'm pleased with the way we played. It was a good match."
The final set went back and forth with 13 lead changes before Amherst Steele grabbed an 18-17 lead and never trailed again. Morales scored the winning shot when she faked a spike and tapped the ball into an open area.
"To get this far and to beat such a good team like that is just so overwhelming," Morales said.
Amherst Steele (23-3) came into the game ranked seventh in the state, while the Arrows were ranked third. St. Ursula, which went 29-0 to win the 2004 state championship, had reached the state final four six times since 2000.
"They are one of the finest teams and they have a solid track record with their state championship," Amherst Steele coach Laurie Cogan said. "Their tradition is amazing. It's always been a dream to put together a team that could compete against a team of that caliber."
Cogan's tallest player is 5-foot-9, while the Arrows have five players who are 5-10 or taller.
"It's a huge win for us, especially with the size difference," Cogan said. "Deme's offense is why we're here. No one has shut her down this season."
St. Ursula captured its ninth district title in 10 years to reach the semifinals. It was just the fifth time the Arrows were pushed to a fourth set this season.
The Arrows won the City League championship and had winning streaks of nine and 10 games.
Buck, who captured his 300th career win this season, said, "I've got six sophomores who now have over 45 matches of experience, so the future is bright."
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