MILLTOWN – After escaping with a two-point win in the first set, then pulling away in the second, the Padua volleyball team left no doubt that they belonged in the state championship match coming up on Monday night.
A 7-1 run early in the third put the Pandas up, 12-4, over St. Mark’s, and Padua would go on to a 25-12 win to complete the sweep in the semifinal round Nov. 9 at St. Mark’s. The top-seeded Pandas will attempt to win their first state title since 2013 when they meet No. 3 Ursuline at the Bob Carpenter Center on Monday after the consolation match, which begins at 5:30 p.m.
Set scores were 26-24, 25-19, and 25-12.
Padua received contributions from several players in that final set, but senior hitter Emily Jarome stood out. She scored on back-to-back blasts early on, then did more damage once she rotated into the serve. Consecutive aces from Jarome – one down the left side, the second in the middle – made it 11-4, and Jess Molen completed a four-point run by scoring off the Spartans’ block.
Later in the set, a smash by Jarome got through the defense, and the ball ended up coming to rest among the pajama-clad Padua students. An ace by Katie McGonigal extended the Pandas’ advantage to 20-10, forcing a Spartans timeout. Savannah Seemans and Grace Frati scored on consecutive kills to cut the Padua lead to eight, but the Pandas would not give up another.
Jarome sent an Emma Lucey set straight down, then followed by stuffing an overpass. Her next kill attempt went off the fourth-seeded Spartans’ block and out of bounds. Jarome next picked up an assist on a back-line kill by Molen, then finished the match with a smash down the middle.
“I’ve wanted to do this since freshman year and I made varsity, and we were here playing Charter and lost in five,” Jarome said. “Every year, I’ve been working harder and harder to get here, and I know my team has been working so hard to get here.”
The third set stood in stark contrast to the first, a nip-and-tuck affair that featured fantastic defense by both sides and a healthy dose of the Spartans’ two most effective hitters, Seemans and Gillian Lytle. Padua pulled out to a 21-16 lead, but St. Mark’s – boosted by a large student section dressed in white – battled back. The Spartans scored five straight, including two kills from Lytle, to get it back level. Molen scored two straight for the Pandas, but kills by Caroline Detrick and Abby Thibodeau knotted it once more.
Padua was not able to take advantage of its first set point, but after Molen crushed one to give the team its second at 25-24, Jarome went down the middle for the set.
“I think there was so much adrenaline running through my body that I couldn’t even contain myself through any of the plays,” Jarome said.
St. Mark’s held a 13-11 lead in the second when the tide turned. Molen and Mackenzie Sobczyke were key for the Pandas, scoring when the Spartans focused on Jarome. Molen ended that frame with a spike straight down.
Jarome led her team with 23 kills, 15 digs and four aces; Molen added 16 kills and 15 digs. McGonigal had 26 digs. The Pandas improved to 18-0 with just the championship match remaining. It is the goal they have been working toward since before practice started in August, Jarome said.
“The fact that we’ve been undefeated this long, made it all the way to the finals, I know everybody’s so excited. We’re going to work even harder these last few days of practices, just get out there and keep doing what we’re doing,” Jarome said.
St. Mark’s stats were not available early Friday morning. The Spartans finished with a record of 13-5. The Spartans will meet second-seeded Tower Hill in the consolation match on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Bob. Tickets for the final are $8 and are available at www.statechamps.com/diaa.