BRANDYWINE HUNDRED – When Padua’s volleyball team met Appoquinimink on Nov. 5 at Brandywine High School, the third-seeded Pandas were playing their first match in nine days, while the Jaguars had seen action just two days prior. The Pandas survived a rough start to claim a 3-0 victory in the second round of the state volleyball tournament. Set scores were 25-17, 25-9 and 25-17.
Padua coach Lauren DiSabatino said a number of factors could have played a part, including the layoff.
“Just kind of getting started and getting a feel for it,” she said. “They already had a game under their belt, and we didn’t. We just had to get into our groove a little bit, that’s all.”
Nineteenth-seeded Appo, which defeated Cape Henlopen in the opening round, went toe-to-toe early, taking a 7-6 lead in the first on an ace by Carly Burns. Padua rebounded with the next three points, but Appo stayed in the hunt for a bit. The teams were tied at nine when Jess Molen scored on a kill and Emma Lucey followed with an ace. The Pandas finally gained some separation with a five-point run to go ahead, 18-11. Claire Bisson got it started with a swing down the right sideline, and Appo hurt itself with a series of unforced errors.
The Jaguars pulled to within 19-16, but the Pandas would not be denied. They scored six of the final seven points in the set, with Ella Welsh contributing a block and a cross-court winner, Molen throwing down another kill, and Taylor Valletti ending the first on a nice tip kill.
Valletti said it was important for her team to clean up its play in the second set, as several Pandas unforced errors allowed Appoquinimink to keep within striking distance.
“We were hanging around with them too much. We knew we should have gotten the lead in the first couple points, but we started to get our mojo in the second set. We carried that into the third set, and it worked for us,” she said.
Padua stepped on the accelerator as soon as the second set began, blasting its way to a 10-1 lead behind an eight-point run that included, in succession, another Bisson cross-court winner, Welsh sending one straight down over the middle, a block by Welsh, and a smash from Emily Jarome. She and Molen became the preeminent weapons as the set proceeded, and the outcome was never in doubt.
It was Appo, however, that shot out of the cannon to open the third. Brooke Miller tipped one over Valletti, then went off the tape for another kill. Taylor Modica and Caelan Brooks both chipped in with kills during a seven-point run, giving the Jaguars their biggest lead of the night at 7-1.
“Their defense was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Their blocks, I was not anticipating, but then I found my spots, and I saw that working,” Valletti said. “But they did great. They had great defense, and they had great hitters, too.”
DiSabatino called a timeout, and her troops responded by scoring seven of the next eight to level the score. It remained tied at 14 when Burns delivered another ace, but the Pandas put the match away by scoring eight of the next nine. Valletti contributed a block and a tip kill during that stretch, and Lucey chipped in with an ace. Molen finished the evening with another ace.
As good as the offense was, Padua’s defense was stellar behind a front line that included Valetti with four blocks and Welsh and Bisson with three each, along with the digging of Maddie Judge, who had 17, and Lucey, who added 13.
“You’ve got to keep the ball off the floor,” DiSabatino said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you hit it every time, or how good your setter is, or how good your hitters are. You have to keep the ball off the floor.”
Jarome led the Pandas with 10 kills, while Molen had nine to go along with three aces. Padua improved to 14-2 and will meet Ursuline on Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round. The match will be played at either the St. E Center or St. Mark’s High School at a time to be announced.
Valletti said there are no secrets between the Pandas and Raiders. Padua won both sets bewteen the neighborhood rivals during the regular season, and they are expecting the usual Ursuline effort.
“We know Ursuline’s defense, so we just have to work on our spots,” she said.
Appo, whose statistics were not available late Saturday night, finished its season at 10-6, with five of its losses coming to teams still playing in the tournament. The Jaguars have several talented players returning and figure to be in contention for the Blue Hen Conference Flight A title next year.