NEWARK – Padua’s volleyball seniors had been on this stage before, playing at the Bob Carpenter Center in front of more than 2,500 fans. There was the consolation match victory last year, and the championship loss the year before, both against Ursuline. They were ready for a win in the final match of the high school season.
“We are consistently here, and that is something to be really proud of, but you know, the girls work every year for this, and the pressure that it is to be here all the time, they deserve it. They work hard every day. They compete through the ups and the downs, and they deserve to be up there (on the gymnasium wall) with the other two,” said coach Lauren DiSabatino, who now has led the Pandas to three state championships in her eight years at the helm.
The Pandas, the tournament’s fourth seed, reached the pinnacle of the sport in Delaware on Nov. 11 with a four-set win over second-seeded Saint Mark’s. Set scores were 25-16, 21-25, 25-18 and 25-23.
There were seven seniors on the Pandas’ 15-person roster: Sarah Pritchard, Jackie Barnett, Grace Palaypay, Jessica Molen, Ireland Giaquinto, Jill Timmons and Michelle Kozicki. Pritchard, Palaypay, Molen and Kozicki were on the varsity team that lost in the 2017 final. Giaquinto was a manager for that team. The group was hungry for a win.
“This is just the best feeling in the world with my team” said Barnett, who was on the junior varsity two seasons ago with Timmons. Barnett delivered the match-winning kill against Saint Mark’s.
Molen was proud of her team for putting in all the work necessary to get this far.
“It’s just an awesome feeling,” she said. “I’m really proud of everybody on the team. Everybody the past couple of years has put in so much effort in work to get this program where it is, and I’m just really, really thankful that I got to be a part of this. I’m just so pumped. This is great. I don’t even know what to say.”
For one of the seniors, the championship match was the first she was able to attend since the last time the Pandas met the Spartans on Oct. 22. Kozicki missed the final regular-season match and the three previous tournament matches while dealing with a medical issue. She was in uniform for the final, although she knew she would not be able to play.
Still, being on the bench cheering her teammates was a pretty nice feeling, she said.
“It’s not really tough to watch just because I’m just so proud of them. Watching them and seeing them succeed is the same as being on the court and succeeding with them. It’s all the same to me. It’s great,” Kozicki said.
She enjoyed the view with her classmate, Timmons, especially after Barnett’s shot fell.
“It was amazing. Jill (Timmons) and I were on the bench together, and we got up screaming. It’s the best. Everyone’s happy for each other. It’s not like we’re happy for an individual. We’re collectively excited because we wanted it forever.”
Molen will graduate next spring, so she’s happy she had the chance to experience a title. Doing it as a senior is a bit extra-special. “Everybody wants to finish out their senior year with a bang like this. It was a perfect way to end it, and I’m just so excited to see what they do next year and to see this program moving forward.”
The members of this team will be able to walk into the Padua gym and see their championship banner on the wall knowing that is something that can never be taken away from them. For Kozicki, it was a bit overwhelming.
“I can’t even explain that feeling,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to cry, and I got all emotional just thinking about it. We’re always going to be remembered, and it is a team to remember. We’re so close, and we’re a family.”