BOWLING GREEN — High school volleyball matches are best three-of-five games, but sometimes they can be decided, in spirit, as early as the first game.
The second-ranked St. Ursula Arrows, still had two games to win against seventh-ranked Findlay after their impressive rally to win Game 1.
But you’d have a hard time convincing players on either side that this rally didn’t set a permanent tone in the Arrows’ 27-25, 25-19, 25-18 victory in a Division I regional semifinal Thursday night at the Stroh Center.
The win sends St. Ursula (25-1) to its third straight regional final and 10th in the last 13 seasons. The Arrows won the D-I state championship and were state runners-up last year, finishing 28-1 both seasons.
“That would’ve been a tough one to lose,” Arrows coach John Buck said of his team’s rally from a 24-21 deficit in the first game. “It’s hard to come back after that, because I’m sure they were already counting that as a ‘w’.
“I’m sure that took the wind out of their sails. They had a good game plan, and we had to adjust. I’m proud of the way our girls handled it.”
The Arrows will face North Royalton in the regional final at noon on Saturday at Norwalk High School.
Seniors Katie McKernan and Maddie Burnham led St. Ursula with 11 and 10 kills, respectively, sophomore Lauran Graves had seven, and junior Lauren Daudelin added six. McKernan also had 35 assists, and junior Madelyn McCabe added 19 in the win.
The digs leaders were sophomores Maurissa Leonard and Megan Burns with 12 and 10, respectively.
St. Ursula dug itself a hole in Game 1, rallied back, fell behind late, and rallied once again to pull it out.
On the serve of Emma Schleucher, the Trojans (22-4) reeled off six straight points for a quick 8-2 lead, and increased their lead to 11-4 before St. Ursula regrouped.
“There was so much adrenaline early on that we just couldn’t calm our girls down,” Buck said. “The sets and hits were flying all over. We called timeout and just said, ‘Calm down.’ ”
After Findlay’s Allison Twining served long, the Arrows surged for four more points on Burns’ service to get back within 11-9.
St. Ursula’s momentum continued, and it used another 6-1 run to grab a 15-13 lead after a Burnham kill and an unforced error by the Trojans.
Findlay bounced back, and with Schleucher serving, scored four straight points to take a 19-16 lead.
The Trojans had the Arrows on the ropes at 24-21 after Schleucher’s dump kill, but St. Ursula refused to roll over.
They got a kill from Emily Lydey, a block point from Graves, and back-to-back kills from Burnham to take a 25-24 lead.
“The big thing was we got their student section pretty quiet after that [rally],” Burnham said. “We just got the momentum and energy and kept going.
“We just had some jitters we needed to get out of us. Once we did, I think we played pretty solid the rest of the match. It’s the mentality of our team to never lose and keep fighting until the end.”
A Kayce Krucki kill staved off defeat momentarily for the Trojans, but Krucki served long, and Graves’ block of Nicole Muehl capped the 27-25 victory.
“We really didn’t stop playing,” McKernan said of the Game 1 rally. “That [deficit] just encouraged us to communicate more, and to work harder on the floor together.
“We tried to get everybody pumped up. We were sort of lacking that in the beginning. Having that first game under your belt gives you a little leeway. We didn’t want to have to come back and have to win another three.”
In Game 2, after some early back-and-forth battling, St. Ursula broke from a 7-7 tie to launch a pivotal 12-4 run and grab control at 19-11 after a kill from Daudelin.
The Arrows closed out that game on a kill from Graves.
St. Ursula got off to a fast start in Game 3, taking a 5-1 lead before Findlay settled in and made a contest of it. The Trojans rallied to take their only lead of the game at 11-10 on a kill from Muehl.
The Arrows responded with three straight points and continued on a 10-4 run to go up 20-14 on a Daudelin kill. Burnham, the Arrows’ only third-year starter, sealed the match with her 10th kill.
Ciara Ralston topped Findlay with 11 kills, and Twining was next with eight.
“That’s St. Ursula,” Findlay coach Bob Moran said of the Game 1 rally. “We still fought hard and I felt we had a chance to come back. We fought back all year. They’ve never quit on us all year.
“These girls have put Findlay volleyball on the map. That’s something to be proud of, and these 10 seniors had a lot to do with that.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org,
419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.