MILLTOWN – Padua’s volleyball team kept its season-opening win streak going, while handing St. Mark’s it’s first defeat of 2017 in a 3-0 win Sept. 19. The set scores in the first Catholic Conference match of the year were 25-21, 25-19 and 25-17.
A large, spirited crowd was on hand to watch the Pandas, ranked third in the state by 302Sports.com, battle the No. 4 Spartans. Both teams came into the evening with 3-0 records and just one lost set between them, as Padua defeated Newark Charter by a 3-1 score. The fans saw lots of big hits and a night full of superb defense by both teams.
Padua used a six-point run to take control of a back-and-forth first set. The teams showed during the early going the overhead smashes and improbable digs that would be on display all night. Senior hitter Emily Jarome was particularly effective during the run, throwing down three of her match-leading 22 kills.
Another streak of six points pushed Padua to a 10-point advantage, but St. Mark’s refused to fold. With Grace Frati on serve, the hosts ran off four straight. The Spartans climbed as close as three at 24-21 on a block by Erin Derick and an unforced error by Padua, but Molen smashed a ball down the middle and off a St. Mark’s player to finish the first set.
The Padua offense spread the wealth in the second set, as the Pandas steadily built a 20-9 lead. Jarome delivered several kills, but she got significant help from her teammates. Jess Molen added several decisive kills from the left outside position, and the team got blocks from Grace Palaypay, Mackenzie Sobczyk and Emma Lucey.
The second set was marked by outstanding defensive work from both teams. One Jarome kill early on would not have been possible without three fantastic digs, including two from the libero, Katelyn McGonigal. On the other side of the court, the Spartans Alyssa Berggrun saved a point for her team with an improbable dive, and Derick served up a few aces. Jarome scored the final three Padua points on three kills. The first kissed the end line. The second was an expertly placed cross-court winner, and the set-ending shot was a blast that went straight down.
Jarome said St. Mark’s has been the best competition the Pandas have played thus far.
“We pulled ahead in the beginning and went on long runs, but then we hit a bump in the road and let St. Mark’s come back, but we finished it off,” she said.
The Spartans stayed close in the third set, not allowing Padua to build the big leads that marked the first two. A tip kill by Savannah Seemans pulled St. Mark’s to within two at 16-14, but they could not get any closer. Jarome continued to punish the volleyball, sending kills all over the court, and Molen made her presence known. In fact, it was Molen who ended the match with another smash down the middle of the court.
Molen appeared more assertive as a sophomore than she did last season, when she opened eyes as a freshman.
“I feel a lot more comfortable,” she said. “I feel like I know the sport of high school volleyball much better. There’s a lot more speed than in club. I know my players and who I’m playing with, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
In addition to her kills, Jarome finished with six aces and 15 digs. Molen added 12 kills and 15 digs, and MdGonigal was outstanding on defense with 29 digs. The Pandas (4-0) have another challenge ahead of them on Friday, when they travel to Wilmington Charter for a 6:30 p.m. start.
Jarome has spent all of her time at Padua working to make herself a more well-rounded player, and it has paid dividends for her team.
“Hitting is definitely my number one thing, so I’ve been comfortable with that since the beginning. But then we started developing my digs, and through the years, we got serving down. I’ve been working on spot-serving, and that’s definitely helped me with my aces,” she said.
For St. Mark’s (3-1), Seemans led the way with 14 kills, nine digs and 12 assists, while Derick had seven kills and eight kills and 15 assists. Gillian Lytle contributed four kills and five aces. The Spartans stay home for their next match, which is Thursday at 7:!5 p.m. against St. Elizabeth.