WILMINGTON – Top-seeded Padua advanced to the semifinal round of the state volleyball tournament with a 3-0 sweep of Archmere on Nov. 7 at the St. E Center, but the Auks gave the Pandas all they could handle. Padua took the sets by scores of 25-21, 25-23, and 25-21.
The Pandas remained undefeated at 17-0 heading into Thursday night’s semifinal match against Catholic Conference foe St. Mark’s on the Spartans’ home floor. That one will follow the first semifinal pitting No. 3 Ursuline against No. 2 Tower Hill.
Both teams threw spectacular defense at each other all night, and it was evident early. One point a few minutes in saw Archmere’s Mackenzie Popp diving for a dig, and on the Auks’ subsequent kill attempt, Emily Jarome of Padua was able to reach toward the end line to keep the ball in the air. The Pandas jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but that would not last.
Led by the powerful right arm of Jarome, Padua maintained a small lead for much of the set. Her ace restored the Pandas’ four-point lead at 11-7, and a Jess Molen kill extended that to five points. But the Auks stuck around, with Julia Kochie continuing her strong play. Consecutive kills by her brought the Auks to within two at 14-12. A four-point run put Padua in front, 19-13, but the Auks scored the next seven – the final one a block of Jarome by Nicki Kelly. Padua took a break.
“Basically, we talked about how we needed to just take a breath for a second,” Molen said. “A lot of times, we have a tendency to overthink things when things start getting rough.”
Padua would end the set on a 6-1 run, scoring the final two on unforced Archmere errors. They led, 1-0.
Archmere maintained a narrow advantage for much of the second set, with Kochie leading the way and getting support from a number of teammates. It was looking good for the Auks later on, as they held a 21-15 lead and were still up three at 22-19. Kelly earned the Auks another point with a smash, but that was it offensively in the set for them.
Jarome knocked one off the block, and the Pandas scored on a block, prompting an Archmere timeout. Taylor Mueller served up consecutive aces to put Padua at set point, and Jarome ended the second with a cross-court scorcher.
The Pandas took an early lead in the final set and kept it in the four- to five-point range much of the way. Molen scored several of those points for the Pandas, including a kill that made it 12-6. Jarome followed with a thunderous kill.
Kochie spearheaded the Auks’ comeback attempt up front with her power and from the back line on the serve, as an ace made it 15-13. But Padua had too much. Another crushed ball from Jarome pushed the lead to 23-17, and after an Archmere point, a block by Michelle Kozicki sent it to match point.
But Kochie blew one through the Pandas’ wall, followed by a block of Jarome by Amy Thomson. Thomson then knocked a kill straight down, but Padua won the match on a service error.
“I feel like the energy was really here. Archmere is always such a good team, and it’s a pleasure to play them. They always bring a really good game, which helps us bring a really good game as well,” Molen said.
Jarome led the way for Padua with 18 kills, while Molen contributed 14. Both players had 12 digs. Katie McGonigal finished with 26 digs for the Pandas, many of those of the acrobatic variety.
Kochie had 13 kills, three aces and 12 digs to pace the Auks. Lauren Edmiston had six kills, while Sydney Niumataiwalu had 13 digs. Archmere ended the season with an 11-6 record.