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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

St. Ursula, Notre Dame will meet for City volleyball title

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The win by the third-seeded Eagles (15-5) avenged an earlier league loss in five games to Central (15-6) on this same court, and earned them a rematch with powerhouse rival St. Ursula in Thursday's 7 p.m. City championship match at the Sullivan Center.

Top-seeded St. Ursula (18-1), the defending City champion and Ohio's No. 2-ranked Division I team, moved to the title match with an easy 25-12, 25-12, 25-8 win over fourth-seeded Clay (14-7) in Tuesday night's first semifinal.

Tied 9-9 in Game 1, Central took control behind the serve of Jennifer Kowalski for eight straight points. Although Notre Dame would rally back within 21-20 and later 24-23, the Irish held on when the Eagles' Shelly DeHenning hit one long on the final point.

But that's when the Eagles grabbed the match's momentum and ran with it.

They bolted to a 10-1 lead in Game 2 and never really looked back as the Irish never got closer than five points from there.

And, speaking of momentum, Notre Dame never allowed Central to regain any of it in Game 3, when the Irish managed as many as two consecutive serves only twice the entire game.

Notre Dame's Jocelyn Uchic (8) leaps for the ball against Central Catholic's Maggie Gilmore in the second semifinal at the Sullivan Center. Notre Dame's Jocelyn Uchic (8) leaps for the ball against Central Catholic's Maggie Gilmore in the second semifinal at the Sullivan Center.
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That trend continued until late in the deciding Game 4, after the Eagles had built a seemingly commanding 19-12 lead.

But, with Erinn Kaucher serving, the Irish rallied for five straight points to climb back into the game. Central continued its roll, actually pulling ahead 23-22 before Notre Dame regrouped for the match's final three points.

"They used their energy from the home court at the beginning, and at the end to come back," Notre Dame coach Gary Freed said of Central. "Luckily we fought through both those times.

"That was a big finish for us because you don't want to go five games on their home court. We're happy to come out with a win.

"We did it with defense. That's the way it's going to be with us. Just picking up one ball and starting from there, and making the next serve count."

Sophomore Morgan Fioritto topped the Eagles' attack with 16 kills, and seniors Meghan Smyth and Jessica Nachtrab added 14 and nine, respectively. Senior Arika Knannlein led Central with 10 kills and junior Olivia Pina had nine for the Irish.

"Our middles killed us," Central coach Melissa Belcher said. "They couldn't block anything. They weren't strong up there, and they didn't have their hands pressed.

"We were pretty effective in the first game, but that's been our biggest weakness - our blocking has faltered all season long. We never fixed it. That's been our [pattern] all season long. We don't learn from our mistakes right away."

There was little drama in the first semifinal, especially after Clay had pulled within 15-12 in Game 1 when St. Ursula junior Cassidy Croci sent an attack long.

The Arrows gained a sideout point on Croci's kill, then reeled off nine more unanswered points to close the game on the lethal serve of senior All-Ohioan Veronica Zimmerman, a surge that included six aces.

St. Ursula picked up where it left off in Game 2, continuing a 20-1 run by grabbing a 10-1 lead, and never allowed Clay anything that resembled momentum.

"We had a few hitting errors, then that went into passing errors and then it was like everybody just fell apart," Clay coach Tracy Donnelly said of St. Ursula's decisive run. "That's what good teams do to you if you're not mentally tough enough to handle your mistakes.

"They're a very good team. You have to give them a lot of credit."

That pattern resumed in Game 3 when the Arrows - who have not yielded a single game in City League play this season - closed out the 60-minute match.

Croci led the Arrows with nine kills, senior Maggie Burnham had eight, and sophomore sister Maddie Burnham added seven. Kristen Kayser topped Clay with five kills and Katey McQueary added four.

With its clear dominance in the City League and northwest Ohio this season, St. Ursula may be getting its toughness opposition between matches.

"The kids are working very hard in practices, and we're walking out of those with a lot of bags of ice," veteran Arrows coach John Buck said. "We keep looking to improve, and we see some things every time we play that we can work on.

"Our overall play was good tonight. Obviously we did what we needed to do to win."

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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