NEWARK – With the tension high inside the Bob Carpenter Center and the state volleyball championship hanging in the balance, Padua’s big hitters Jen Borio and Allyson Jennings decided enough was enough. Leading, 10-8, with the first team to 15 declared the winner, the pair took matters into their very capable hands.
A cross-court kill by Jennings, followed by another kill, this one off one of her Ursuline counterparts, put the Pandas up, 12-8. A long hit by a Raider made the score 13-8, and the black-clad Padua students in their “Padua Power” t-shirts could taste the school’s first volleyball title. Borio ended things with back-to-back blocks, giving the Pandas a 15-8 win in the fifth game and a 3-2 victory for the match.
After a close, long match that lasted more than two hours, the emotional Pandas embraced each other, first-year head coach Lauren DiSabatino and their fellow students, who serenaded the team with the school song.
Borio said the support did not go unnoticed.
“Nothing’s stronger than the Padua sisterhood. No matter where we go, no matter how we finish, we know our school will always be 125 percent behind us,” she said.
The final line read 21-25, 25-18, 20-25, 25-21 and 15-8, and it was played in front of a loud and enthusiastic crowd of 2,217, the third-largest for the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association. Ursuline’s large contingent of students stood out in their red shirts in the west end zone.
Borio paced the winners with 28 kills and four blocks, while Jennings pitched in with 17 kills and 17 digs. Libero Lauren Summa had 58 digs.
Padua’s triumph marked the first time since 1992 that a team other than Ursuline or St. Mark’s took home the trophy. (Concord was the state champion in 1992.) It was the fifth time Padua had met Ursuline in the final (2003-05, 2009).
“These girls worked so hard. I just wanted to give them everything I could possibly give them. They opened up their hearts, and they left it all out there on the floor,” DiSabatino said.
Padua rallied to win the last two sets, having surrendered a late-game lead in the first and making too many unforced errors in the third. The undersized but talented Raiders played their trademark stellar defense and used smart placement of the ball to overcome their height disadvantage.
DiSabatino said she tried to keep her players calm throughout the evening, particularly when they dropped a mistake-filled third set and trailed, 2-1.
“It was a big night, the nerves were going crazy. Some mistakes happened, and we needed to just move forward into the next point,” she said.
Borio said the team had a goal coming into the season, and this was it.
“We knew we had a really good shot if we could play our ‘A’ game,” she said. “Ursuline’s a very strong team. We knew they were going to be on fire because of their win over St. Mark’s (in the semifinal round). We knew that we couldn’t let ourselves get frustrated because they have such a solid defense,” she said.
Ursuline coach Sue Heiss, who has won 10 state championships, said the match showed what a fickle game volleyball can be.
“You can win one and think you have it, and the next second you don’t have it,” she said. “We were picking up a lot of stuff, but it was a good back-and-forth game. I’m happy for Padua. They’re well-coached.”
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St. Mark’s rebounded from its loss to the Ursuline Raiders in the semifinal by defeating the Concord Raiders in the consolation match. Concord surprised the top-seeded Spartans in the first game, taking it, 25-23. St. Mark’s, behind senior Lauren Talley, asserted itself in game two, winning 25-12, and was too much in the third and deciding set, 15-11.
A longer version of this article is available at http://thedialog.org/?p=8487.