NEWARK – Wilmington Charter and Archmere first met on the volleyball court on Sept. 13 at Moglia Fieldhouse in Claymont. The host Auks took a 3-1 victory in that one. Charter lost a week later at Padua, evening their record at 2-2, but that would be the last time the Force would taste defeat.
Charter put together a superb game plan the night of Nov. 12, sweeping Archmere, 3-0, at the Bob Carpenter Center for the school’s first state volleyball championship. The first two sets were won by scores of 25-23, and the clinching set was 25-20.
The match, particularly the first two sets, were about as close as one would expect between two of the state’s top programs. The teams traded points for much of the first set, and while a variety of players did damage, the offenses centered around the top players – Maddie Matheny of Charter and Julia Kochie of Archmere. Tied at 3 early in the first, Kochie put the Auks in front for the first time by smacking a ball just inside the end line. Matheny restored the Force’s one-point advantage a minute later with her own monster kill.
The second-seeded Auks opened up what would be their biggest lead of the night at 15-11, prompting a Force timeout. Charter, the fourth seed, scored the first three points out of the break, two of those kills by Matheny, and they tied it again at 18. The Auks trailed, 22-20, before scoring three straight. Faith Merritt scored the first of those by going off the Charter block, and after an unforced error, Kochie went over on the second hit.
Isabel Lugar got one back for the Force, followed by a tap kill by Matheny that sent it to set point. Archmere called timeout, but Addison Miller ended the set with an ace.
Matheny opened the second set with the serve, and she also picked up an ace. The Force started with a 4-0 lead, but Archmere rebounded, eventually taking a 12-10 lead on a block by Abby Kates. The teams went back and forth, with Matheny leveling the score at 13 on a blast straight down. Lauren Edmiston scored the next two for the Auks, however, the first on a nice cross, the second on a block. Jade Bryant then tipped a shot into the middle of the floor, putting the Auks ahead, 16-13, and sending the hundreds of white-clad Archmere students into a frenzy.
The Force bounced right back, scoring three in a row on a tip by Corinna Bialecki, an ace by Madeline Austria, and a fantastic kill from Dani Waltz. Charter was up, 21-19, before Kochie tied it again on consecutive kills. It was also tied at 21 and 22 before Matheny struck again. Two straight kills by the senior made it set point. Bryant saved one, but Matheny ended the set by hitting the ball off the Archmere wall.
The Force opened the third set with a five-point run, the final one coming on another Austria ace. Archmere, meanwhile, was forced to work for every point, as the Charter defense was suffocating all night. There were few holes in the Force’s wall, and the back line dug just about everything. Ava Scarpaci did go down the middle to get the Auks on the board, but the Force continued their assault, opening up a six-point lead when Waltz found the floor on a kill.
Matheny was a mainstay on offense throughout the night, but particularly in the middle of set three. But Kochie spearheaded the Auks’ comeback, and an attack error by Charter brought Archmere to within two at 19-17. It was still a two-point margin at 22-20 before the Force went on a run to end the match and the season. Christina Marcin went off the Auks block for one, and Bialecki got it to championship point with a block. The Force denied the Auks with three blocks on the next point, which ended when an Archmere player touched the net trying to keep the ball from falling to the floor.
“There were things that had to happen to get to that net violation,” Matheny said. “We had to get our serves in. We had to look where the other team was going and just really focus.”
Charter’s players ran to the end zone to celebrate with their schoolmates, who showed up in droves wearing red, white and blue. Matheny was spectacular in her final high school match, finishing with 24 kills and 19 digs. Bialecki was very impressive; she had 11 kills. Kennie Swanson and Mallory McCormick each had 20 digs for the Force, who ended the season at 17-2.
“It’s the best feeling ever. I don’t know if it gets any better than this,” Matheny said. She added that the loss to Archmere two months prior “really fueled us,” and it helped that they were so familiar with each other.
For the Auks, Kochie led the way with 12 kills and 12 digs. Bryant added 10 kills. Hannah Wright led the team with 17 digs, while Sydney Niumataiwalu had 15. Archmere also finished with a 17-2 mark. The Auks won their first 13 matches before falling to top-ranked Padua, and they closed their regular season with a five-set win over Ursuline. They also won the Diamond State Athletic Conference championship.