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Living up to the hype: No. 3 Pandas need five sets to upset top-ranked Raiders


Dialog reporter


WILMINGTON – The momentum – and the scoreboard – were tilted in Ursuline’s favor when the Raiders met archrival Padua in a key Catholic Conference volleyball showdown Oct. 4. The Raiders, ranked first in the state by 302Sports.com, won the second and third sets and needed just one more to escape with a win.

But the third-ranked Pandas reached deep and went deep into their bench to roar back for a 3-2 triumph in front of an overflowing sellout crowd inside Padua’s steamy gymnasium. Set scores were 25-23, 15-25, 21-25, 25-19 and 15-6. Padua remained unbeaten at 9-0 while handing Ursuline its first setback. The Raiders are 6-1.

Emily Jarome of Padua watches her kill attempt travel toward Ursuline libero Sam Davis. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

It was 2-1 Raiders, and the teams were bouncing back and forth in the fourth set, when Padua finally turned the tide. After the Raiders’ Abby Rzucidlo tied the score at 12 with a smash that kissed the end line, the Pandas kicked off a four-point run on an overhead swipe by Jessica Molen. Michelle Kozicki scored the last point of that run with a block.

Ursuline fought back and trailed by just one at 17-16, but Padua would score the next six points. During that stretch, three straight monstrous kills by Emily Jarome were sandwiched by two points from Allison Stuebing, one on a nice cross-court kill, the other on a block. Jarome finished the set with a block of her own.

Freshman Mackenzie Sobczyk, who had a fine all-around performance, said Stuebing did just what the team needed her to do.

“Allie did a great job filling the spot of the blocker. That was (coach Lauren DiSabatino’s) No. 1 priority, getting the blocker up, getting the touches and eventually just blocking them,” Sobczyk said.

The momentum from the fourth set carried into the fifth. The Pandas opened by scoring the first four points, and this time, they held the Raiders at bay. The set featured the outstanding defense that was on display all night, with Pandas setter Emma Lucey nearly going into the bleachers for one dig, and a few points later, Ursuline’s Cassidy Markel laying out to pancake an attempted kill by Jarome. Padua scored five of the final six points to close it out, including Jarome’s 20th kill of the evening.

Taylor Wright smacks the ball toward the Padua wall, which includes Michelle Kozicki (21). (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

Libero Katelyn McGonigal said the size and energy of the crowd was “a little nerve-wracking” at first, “but then we got excited and pumped up from it.”

Sobczyk, playing in front of the first sellout of her brief high school career, said she “tried to change my nerves into energy. I did my best to do that; I think everyone did,” she said.

Molen led the Pandas with 22 kills. McGonigal finished with 32 often-acrobatic digs, while Jarome added 24 digs. The Pandas were credited with 22 blocks, including six each for Kozicki and Sobczyk. Padua is off for a week before heading to the current second-ranked team, Tower Hill, next Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

For Ursuline, Taylor Wright was outstanding with 15 kills and 13 digs. Sam Davis finished with 22 digs. Markel had a fine all-around night, collecting 10 kills, three aces, two blocks and 21 assists. Rzucidlo had four aces and four blocks. The Raiders are back on the court Friday at 7:!5 p.m., hosting Delaware Military Academy to open a four-match homestand.

Ursuline’s Corinne Furey finds a hole in the Pandas’ defense. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Mackenzie Sobczyk of Padua goes high above the net. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)