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Notre Dame gave rival St. Ursula everything it could handle in Saturday’s Division I district volleyball championship match, but it wasn’t enough for the Eagles to pull the upset.
The second-ranked Arrows (24-1) trailed 5-3 early in the deciding fifth game before finishing strong to take a 25-18, 22-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-11 victory before a crowd of more than 700 at Perrysburg High School.
“That was a team we expected to play like that,” Buck said of Notre Dame’s effort in defeat. “They have a lot of seniors, and they didn’t want their season to be over. They did a great job today.
“They pushed us to the limit, and I was really proud of the way our girls turned it around when they got to Game 5. They really pinned their ears back and went after it.”
It was the 12th district title in the past 13 years for St. Ursula and veteran coach John Buck, and they will move on to the regional semifinals 6 p.m. Thursday at Bowling Green State University’s Stroh Center against Three Rivers Athletic Conference foe Findlay.
St. Ursula and Findlay each reached the Division I state semifinals last year. The Arrows finished as state runners-up after winning the D-I championship in 2010, and Findlay lost in the semifinals.
The Arrows, who are now 80-3 overall since the start of the 2010 season, took control early in Game 1, grabbing a 10-4 lead and never looking back.
Game 2 was different, as the Eagles rallied from a 12-6 deficit to lead 15-14; they never again trailed that set.
The Eagles — who had taken 3-1 losses to St. Ursula in TRAC regular-season play and in the conference playoff final — started poorly again in Game and, after falling behind 10-3, got no closer than four points from there.
Reversing their trend from the earlier matches against the Arrows, the Eagles (17-8) changed the script in forcing a fifth game by surviving a back-and-forth duel in Game 4.
After Notre Dame saw the Arrows rally from a 12-7 deficit into a a 14-14 tie, the Eagles’ Madeline Smyth ultimately closed that game with a kill to force a Game 5.
The Eagles grabbed early leads of 2-0 and 5-3 in the race to 15 before coming out on the short end to two length mid-game rallies.
Arrows junior Lauren Daudelin closed out the first long point off a block for an 8-6 lead. Notre Dame got called for a touching-the-net violation on the second one to remain down 9-7.
Following a timeout, the Eagles failed to slow St. Ursula’s momemtum late.
Sophomore Lauren Graves slammed a couple kills off quick sets to put St. Ursula on the brink at 14-10. Senior Maddie Burnham sealed things with her 15th kill of the two-hour match.
“We all stayed positive, and we pulled through,” Graves said of the Game-5 finish. “They’re a great team and they played awesome. I think we had a little more enthusiasm.”
Katie McKernan, the Arrows’ only other senior, led St. Ursula with 19 kills, Graves had 14, and Daudelin added seven.
“It was communication,” McKernan said of the reason the Arrows hung on to win. “We came together as a team, and we had the confidence to win this match.
“I definitely did not want this to be my last match. We wanted to keep going to regionals and state.”
“We really had what we thought was a good game plan coming in, and when we were executing that game plan, we were winning,” Eagles coach Jeff Pitzen said. “But when it really mattered the most we weren’t focused. That was pretty obvious in the last set.
We’re happy to be this far, and we really thought we had a good game plan coming in to beat them. We just caught on our heels a couple times and made some mental errors. You can’t knock St. Ursula, They are so mentally focused. You can never count them out.”
Notre Dame was paced by senior Morgan Fioritto (20 kills), and senior teammate Payton Bowyer added 11 for the Eagles.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.