St. Ursula got a strong challenge from its arch-rival Monday night in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference volleyball showdown, and the second-ranked Arrows responded in style with a four-set victory over 13th-ranked Notre Dame in front of a packed home crowd.
The 25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 25-20 win pushed St. Ursula to 17-1 overall on the season and a perfect 7-0 to close regular-season TRAC play as the No. 1 seed for the upcoming conference tournament.
The Arrows, who are now 75-3 overall since the start of the 2010 season, got 17 kills from Maddie Burnham and 14 from fellow senior Katie McKernan. “They definitely gave us a great game,” Burnham said of Notre Dame. “They really came out strong, and [Eagles] Morgan Fioritto and Payton Bowyer were just on fire tonight.
“They’re hard to stop, but I’m glad we pulled it out.”
Arrows junior Lauren Daudelin added 10 kills and sophomore Lauran Graves had eight in a balanced St. Ursula attack effort which was forged by Arrow setters McKernan (27 assists) and junior Madelyn McCabe (25 assists).
Sophomore defensive specialist Maurissa Leonard contributed a team-high 12 digs.
Their work offset the solid 1-2 attack game of Eagle seniors Morgan Fioritto (20 kills) and Payton Bowyer (nine kills).
“We have a great back row and our setters are great,” Burnham said. “All around, I think we played really good tonight.”
St. Ursula never trailed in Game 1, pulling out to a comfortable 15-8 lead midway on Burnham’s fifth kill of the match. Notre Dame could get no closer than six points from there.
In Game 2, the Arrows looked in control again after a Daudelin block point put them on top 17-11. But the Eagles refused to roll over and, after a timeout to regain composure, launched a 7-1 run on the service of Fioritto and Kaitlyn Ward.
Notre Dame kept the momentum rolling, upped its lead to 24-21 on the red-hot Fioritto’s 13th kill of the match, and closed the game on her 14th a moment later.
“Game 1 we were kind of coasting along and had a lead all the way through,” Arrows coach John Buck said. “In Game 2 we had a nice lead and they just kept chipping away and they caught us at the end.
“I really felt like we let that one slip away, but credit Notre Dame because they played a really nice game. They didn’t quit, and that woke our girls up a little bit.”
Perhaps relaxing after their big rally, the Eagles appeared flat to open Game 3, and the lull proved costly.
St. Ursula jumped out to a quick 9-2 advantage, and Notre Dame got no closer than five points the rest of that game.
“In Game 3, we wanted to out-serve their passers,” Buck said. “I’m not sure we were successful there, but our blocking started to get a little better.
“We let a few points slip away and we had to adjust our defense to make sure we picked up their tips.”
Game 4 was appeared to be either team’s game after seven lead changes and 11 tie scores resulted in a 20-20 standoff before the stretch run.
Graves came up with her sixth kill for a 21-20 lead, leading Eagles coach Jeff Pitzen call a timeout.
During that break, Buck used the time to remind his girls of their daily practice routine, and to offer a couple tips.
“We play ‘20-20’ all the time in practice and I just told the blockers to close the block, and the wings to be ready for the tips,” Buck said. “The blockers came through and shut them down.”
Hannah Engler scored a block point for the Arrows, and Burnham followed with a kill, the Eagles failed on an attack attempt, and Burnham sealed things with kill No. 17.
St.Ursula will face last-place Lima Senior in a first-round TRAC tourney match on Thursday night at home, and Notre Dame (13-6, 5-2), the No. 3 seed, will play its quarterfinal against Fremont Ross at Findlay High School that night.
The other quarterfinal match ups Thursday pit No. 2 seed Findlay against No. 7 Whitmer at Findlay, and No. 4 Central Catholic against No. 5 Clay at St. Ursula. The semifinals and finals will be held at the University of Findlay on Oct. 8 and 11.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.