When it came to crunch time in Thursday night’s volleyball match between Notre Dame and host Central Catholic, the home Irish found they were much better finishers.
Led by the combo of sophomore Megan Koralewski and Kristin Murrell, plus some timely defense when it mattered most, Central took a 25-18, 21-25, 25-21, 25-20 Three Rivers Athletic Conference victory at the Sullivan Center.
Koralewski had a match-high 14 kills, including the match clincher, and Murrell added 13 as the Irish moved to 4-2 overall (1-1 TRAC). The Eagles (1-4, 1-1) were paced on the attack by seniors Maddy Smyth (10 kills) and Cassie Gillespie (nine) in defeat.
“Our kids have pretty decent concentration late in games, and I hope I’m not jinxing them by saying that,” Central coach Jen Bronikowski said. “It tends to be early in games and in the middle when we tend to let slides happen.
“This team does an excellent job of staying together and playing as a team. We don’t necessarily have a go-to on the team, so we have to stay together and play as one.”
Notre Dame seemed the equal of Central in each of the four games, at least until the stretch run in three of them.
In Game 1, the Eagles got within 18-17 on an errant Irish attack, only to be outscored 7-1 from there. Koralewski’s kill closed the game for the 1-0 lead.
“We’re known for coming back from big gaps, and we can finish,” Koralewski said. “We have great energy on the court. We just always want to finish. We definitely used their block to our advantage.”
Notre Dame bolted to a 9-3 lead in Game 2, before the Irish regrouped on a four-point service run by senior Maty Lehman, and eventually pulled even at 15-all on a Murrell kill.
That game was tied at 20 before a pair of service aces by the Eagles’ Emma Hnat highlighted her team’s 5-1 closing surge to even the match at 1-all.
The Eagles were still within 15-14 in Game 3 after back-to-back aces from Smyth, but reverted to their first-game form and saw Central seize control of the match with a 10-7 closing edge.
In the deciding game, Notre Dame was even at 15 after a Smyth kill, but once more faded down the stretch as the Irish outscored the Eagles 10-5 in crunch time.
“We’ve got an odd mix of players,” Eagles coach Jeff Pitzen said of his lineup, which hasn’t logged much court time as a collective unit. “We’ve got only one player from last year that started, two girls who didn’t even play on last year’s team, some juniors that didn’t see the court on varsity, and we’ve got three freshmen. We’re still trying to find our groove.
“It seems like we’re constantly playing from behind because we make all of these errors. Then we play great and come back, but it’s too late.”
Sparking Central’s final run were consecutive unforced errors by Notre Dame after it had gained its final tie. An ace by Eagles freshman Ally Speweik cut the Irish lead to 21-19, but Central responded with back-to-back kills from Murrell and Koralewski, plus another from sophomore Molly Hartlage to reach match point at 24-19.
“We picked up our defense really well [late],” Murrell said
“That felt really good to win with the rivalry, and getting those kills felt so good.”