BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio — St. Ursula shook off a sluggish start, then roared back to win the final three games and the Division I regional volleyball final Saturday against Strongsville at Brecksville High School.
St. Ursula (28-0), the No. 1-ranked team, dropped the first game 25-19, but was able to settle down and get its blocking game on track to win the final three games, 25-17, 30-28, and 25-15.
The win clinched the school’s 10th trip to the state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Nutter Center at Wright State University in Dayton. Strongsville finished 23-4.
“It’s awesome to be able to represent Toledo and go back down to Wright State. I’m very proud of the girls and the coaching staff,” Arrows coach John Buck said.
Asked if making the trip to the state tournament is getting old, Buck didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Never,” Buck said. “We’re always bringing new girls. I’m playing a freshman and three sophomores. I’m only playing two seniors. This is a young team.”
St. Ursula was tested at this regional. It eked out a five-game win in thrilling fashion to get past Chagrin Falls Kenston on Oct. 30 in the regional semifinal, then overcame the slow start on Saturday.
Slow starts plagued the Arrows early in the year, Buck said, so he wasn’t worried when his team dropped the first game of the match against Strongville, which was led by senior outside Kelsey Bittinger, a Kent State recruit who finished the day with 22 kills.
“I told them we’ve been here before, let’s go out and win three in a row,” Buck said when asked about losing the first game.
St. Ursula’s big, athletic front line keyed the comeback. Junior rightside hitter Morgan Finn finished the afternoon with 13 kills, while junior middle hitter Lauran Graves added 12, and Lauren Daudelin added 11 kills for the Arrows.
Sophomore setter Emily Lydey finished with 27 assists, while Maurissa Leonard came up with 23 digs, and freshman Jayme Cox and junior Ryan Cox added 13 digs to support the Arrows up front.
“It was a tough match,” Buck said. “Point for point they played right with us, and I’ll tell you what, we had to play our best game.”
It was the play of the Arrows’ front line that ultimately proved to be too much for Strongsville, said Mustangs’ coach Erick Sopata.
“I think they are a well-developed, all-around team,” Sopata said of St. Ursula. “I don’t think there is a weakness they have. They serve well. They are very consistent on serve-receive. They have some strong attackers and blockers.”
St. Ursula knocked off Strongsville earlier this year, but that didn’t give the Arrows a false set of confidence according to senior setter Madelyn McCabe, who finished the match with 25 assists.
“I don’t think we took them lightly,” said McCabe, who conducted a postgame interview while holding her 9-day-old nephew, Noah. “At this point everyone wants to win and play their hardest. Everyone is going to leave everything on the court because they know it could be their last game.”