WILMINGTON – Padua’s volleyball team wrapped up a four-match stretch against some of the best competition in the state in impressive fashion, sweeping past a talented Wilmington Charter squad in front of a loud and large crowd on Sept. 20. The Pandas, ranked fourth in the latest 302Sports.com top 10, triumphed by scores of 25-23, 25-11 and 25-18.
Each of the three sets was marked by periods where the Pandas opened up big leads. They were ahead, 24-16, in the first before some nerves set in. The Force fought off seven set points, combining stellar front-line play from Maddie Matheny and Christina Marcin with several unforced Padua errors. It was a hitting error on Charter, however, that would bring the tense set to a close.
Padua’s defense set the tone all night, and in the second set the Pandas blocked and dug their way to an 11-4 lead. Led by Michelle Kozicki up front and Sarah Pritchard in the back, they stymied the Force’s bigs. Mackenzie Sobczyk played some offense, cranking a kill down the middle off a potential defender, and Audrey Lyons followed with an ace just inside the end line to make it 15-4.
Jess Molen went hard down the left side, then through the Charter wall to increase that to 17-4. Lyons then served up another ace, and Sobczyk went off the defenders for another point. Molen punished an overpass before Gabby Shannon scored on a kill for fifth-ranked Charter to temporarily stop the bleeding. The Force put some points together, but a service error eventually ended the second set.
Molen said creating obstacles for Matheny and the other Force hitters was key.
“They have a lot of big hitters. Maddie’s one of the best hitters in the state. We just focused on playing the best defense we can, just trying to get as many touches on the ball as we can,” she said.
Kozicki got the Pandas going in the third set, drilling one off a few hands for the point. She then blocked Matheny for another point, and Padua was on its way. Matheny tried her best to keep the Force in it, tapping one over the wall to make it 5-3 Pandas. An error brought Charter to within one, but Padua scored the next four.
The lead gradually stretched, thanks to contributions from a number of players, including Grace Palaypay and Jackie Barnett. An 11-2 run, featuring a mix of offense and stellar defense – including a pancake save from Pritchard – helped put the Pandas in command at 16-6. Charter managed to cut a few points off the deficit, but the hill was too high to climb. Kozicki ended the evening with her fifth kill, going off the Force defenders and hitting the floor.
Molen was spectacular for the Pandas, finishing with 16 kills and 10 digs. Kozicki added to the well-balanced attack with five kills and six blocks. The Pandas (4-0) head to Fairfax, Va., on Saturday for their annual meeting with Paul VI, as they begin a five-match road trip. That match begins at 11 a.m.
Molen said the stiff competition of the first four matches will pay dividends. “It really helped us get ready for the season. It’s not going to be easy. There’s so many good teams this year, and we’ve just got to push through and keep on working hard.”
For the Force, they wrapped up an extremely tough opening run of four matches against top competition at 2-2. Matheny paced them with 10 kills and 19 digs, while Mallory McCormick had 20 digs. They are off until Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., when they are on the road at First State Military Academy.