WILMINGTON – The gymnasium at Delaware Military Academy was packed more than 30 minutes before the scheduled start of Thursday night’s volleyball showdown between the top-ranked Seahawks and No. 2 Padua. When it was over, Padua celebrated its 3-0 sweep by lingering around the floor posing for photos and receiving hugs from schoolmates and families.
The exciting three sets went 25-20, 25-21 and 25-21.
Padua put together an all-around game to defeat DMA, which had not lost to a Delaware opponent since Nov. 6, 2014, in a state semifinal matchup with Archmere and not in the regular season to an in-state foe since Oct. 11, 2013, against St. Mark’s. Emily Jarome led the way offensively with a modest 11 kills, but she also added 23 digs, exemplary of the top-notch defense Padua displayed all evening.
“We’ve known that we have a good offense, so I think this year we’ve been focusing on our defense some more,” Jarome said. “Defense is the key. If you can’t get the ball up, you don’t have time to play it.”
Jarome got the match started with a diving reverse save, with the ball heading back over the net and to the floor. Before some fans had settled into their seats, Padua had opened up a 6-0 lead.
Delaware Military, as expected, mounted a comeback. Senior all-state hitter Victoria Taylor got the Seahawks on the board with a smash straight down. DMA closed the gap to one at 9-8, but a 6-1 Pandas run opened it up again. It got as big as 10 points at 24-14; DMA pulled to within 24-20, but Padua senior Ella Welsh ended the first with one of her incredible 10 blocks.
“Defense is so important. We work on it all the time at practice. It’s like our No. 1 thing because we know that if we play defense, we have the hitters to put it down,” Welsh said.
Padua led the second set, 12-10, on a soft Taylor kill when the Pandas once again extended their advantage. A six-point run took it to 18-10 and Padua (7-0) reached set point with a comfortable cushion at 24-15, but again the Seahawks refused to fold. DMA put together a six-point streak, including a kill by senior Lindsay Wolfe, a Taylor kill, an ace by senior first-team all-state setter Sydney Fulton and a block from Taylor, but Jarome closed it out with a slick back-line kill.
The defending state champions may have been two sets in the hole, but they did not give up. The Seahawks’ lead grew to 10-3, and thoughts of a fourth set creeped into the building, before Padua pulled it together. Welsh put up consecutive blocks before crushing a ball down the middle to get the Pandas to within 10-6. Freshman Jess Molen ended a five-point streak with a tip kill, and it was 10-8.
Behind Taylor, Delaware Military grew the lead back to six, at 15-9, the Pandas scored eight of the next 10 points to knot the set at 17. A service error by Padua put the Seahawks ahead, 21-19, but that would be DMA’s last point. The match-ending run included a left-handed tip kill by Lucey, an ace by Jarome and a Welsh kill before an unforced error brought the night to a conclusion and a rush of Padua students on to the floor.
Welsh said it was important to end the night with a sweep. She recalled how last season ended when the Pandas fell in the state semifinals to Archmere, 3-2, after taking the first two sets.
“Last year, we definitely learned a lot of lessons. Even though we won the first two (on Thursday), we needed to win the last one because we know what it’s like to lose when you’re up two,” she said.
Jarome, a third-year starter, has been part of a very successful Padua program and a lot of wins, but this one was special. “I think this is the best one so far. We played the state championship team from last year and we won in three, which is the best thing.”
Welsh added eight kills while libero Maddie Judge bounced all over the court in picking up 34 digs. Padua is off until Wednesday, when Tower Hill visits for a 5:15 p.m. start. The Hillers pushed Padua to five sets last season.
For Delaware Military (3-2), Taylor led the way with 12 kills, while Wolfe had eight. Kirsten Longueira anchored an impressive Seahawks defense with 38 digs. DMA will be at Archmere on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. for a much-anticipated rematch of last season’s state championship match.