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Published: Wednesday, 10/27/2010

Central rallies to set up final with St. Ursula

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Call it a case of revenge, the returning of a favor, or turnabout being fair play.

Whichever clich best fits will suit Central Catholic just fine after Tuesday night's Division I district volleyball semifinal against City League rival Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish (17-6) fell behind two games and looked bad doing it before regrouping to rally for a 12-25, 16-25, 25-13, 25-23, 16-14 victory over the Eagles (16-7) at Perrysburg High School.

The comeback earned the Irish a matchup with powerhouse St. Ursula (23-1) in Saturday's district championship at Perrysburgh High at 3 p.m.

The second-ranked Arrows — winners of two straight CL titles and nine of the last 11 — eliminated Southview 25-8, 25-12, 25-14 in Tuesday night's second semifinal.

St. Ursula was playing without 2009 first-team All-Ohio setter Veronica Zimmerman, who strained a forearm tendon near her left elbow in an Oct. 16 win over 10th-ranked Rocky River Magnificat.

Delivering the biggest blows down the stretch of the first semifinal was Central junior Jennifer Kowalski, who supplied six of her 12 kills in the fifth game as the Irish prevailed in the rubber match between the two teams.

Katie McKernan (5) and Maggie Burnham (8) put up a wall against Southview's Kelsey Blankerts in last night's second match. Katie McKernan (5) and Maggie Burnham (8) put up a wall against Southview's Kelsey Blankerts in last night's second match.
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“We had the heart to win that game,” Kowalski said of closing out the tense fifth game. “Our team is very close, and we pushed every single point. That's what got us that win.”

In last year's district semifinal, it was Notre Dame falling behind 2-0 in games before rallying to jolt Central.

“We just tried to stay positive,” Kowalski said. “Last year Notre Dame did the same thing to us, so we knew it was possible. We knew if we all believed in each other we could do it.”

The Irish, who showed little sign of life in the first two games, found some momentum during a five-point surge into a 13-6 lead on the serve of Maggie Gilmore. That was part of a larger 13-2 Central run that reversed the course of the match.

“I'm not really sure that my kids showed up to play the first two games,” Central coach Melissa Belcher said. “I was kind of disappointed in our play all the way around.

“But then we just kind of went back to last year. Notre Dame did the same thing to us. I told the kids, ‘We're not down and out because we still have three games to play,' and they just completely turned it around.”

Tied 6-6 in Game 4, Central caught fire with a 13-4 surge, only to see the Eagles stage their own 13-4 rally to knot the score 23-23. But Eagle senior Alexa Bowyer served long, and Irish junior Abby Wietrzykowski closed the game with a kill on a well-placed tap.

Notre Dame's Morgan Fioritto sets the ball during the Division I district semifinal against Central Catholic. Notre Dame's Morgan Fioritto sets the ball during the Division I district semifinal against Central Catholic.
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The Eagles appeared poised to salvage the match early on in Game 5, grabbing a quick 4-1 lead on the serve of senior Meghan Smyth. But Central pulled even at 5, and the teams went back and forth down the stretch.

“I give them the credit for stepping up and playing a lot better after Game 2,” Notre Dame coach Gary Freed said, “and we let up. There's always that risk, if there's any kind of letup, that you'll give somebody some life and they'll run with it.

“That's what happened. I think that we basically tightened up [at the end], and they weren't as tight. We knew that we had blown this big lead, so the pressure was on us at that point.”

Junior Makahla Jacobs contributed nine kills, Wietrzykowski had eight, and senior Arika Knannlein added seven for Central.

Smyth topped Notre Dame with 13 kills, sophomore Morgan Fioritto had 10, and junior Jocelyn Uchic added eight.

St. Ursula needed just 57 minutes to top Southview (15-7) as senior Maggie Burnham led the attack with 11 kills. Junior Cassidy Croci and sophomore Maddie Burnham added nine kills apiece, and juniors Madison Strall and Erin Williams each also helped fill the void in Zimmerman's absence.

“Obviously, with Veronica out, the team's got to get used to playing without her,” St. Ursula coach John Buck said. “There's a chance we won't have her on Saturday.

“We told the girls that everybody has to step up. We've relied on Veronica, and we have to learn to adjust to a new lineup here at the end of the season. I was pleased with the way we played.”

St. Ursula's Madison Strall (12) blocks a hit by Southview's Julia Mouch while the Arrows' Cassidy Croci looks to assist. St. Ursula's Madison Strall (12) blocks a hit by Southview's Julia Mouch while the Arrows' Cassidy Croci looks to assist.
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The Arrows broke out to a 7-0 lead in Game 1 and only lost rhythm for any significant stretch during Game 3, when they pulled away from a 10-9 lead with a match-closing 15-5 surge.

“We've been working really hard at [new rotation] ever since she's been injured, and we've been trying out new lineups in practice,” Maggie Burnham said. “It was hard at first, but we're getting into the swing of things.

“We're confident with our lineup. Tonight we played really well. Our passes were good, and therefore our hits were able to be good. We just kept firing away at them.”

Senior Andria Mierzwiak and juniors Kendall Smith and Julia Mouch led the Cougars in kills with four each.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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