MILLTOWN — Padua and Archmere went toe-to-toe for more than two and a half hours on the evening of Nov. 5 in a DIAA volleyball quarterfinal. When the final ball had fallen, the fourth-seeded Pandas had outlasted the No. 5 Auks, 3-2, in five grueling sets at Saint Mark’s High School.
The set scores were 25-22, 23-25, 29-27, 26-28 and 15-6. All but the final set were nail-biters until the final point.
The Pandas had swept the Auks at Archmere earlier in the season, but it was clear from the get-go that Tuesday night would be different. The match was marked by top-notch defense and long rallies.
Archmere ran out to a 12-7 lead in the first after a left-to-right smash by Julia Kochie, but the Pandas scored six of the next seven points to tie it up at 13. The Auks, undeterred, responded with four straight, including another Kochie kill and an ace from the senior, but three Auks errors and a Mackenzie Sobczyk blast re-tied the score.
Padua went on a run to take a 22-19 lead, prompting an Auks timeout. Lauren Edmiston scored for Archmere out of the break, but the Pandas’ Jess Molen responded with a kill. An Auks service error sent it to set point, and after Archmere saved once, Grace Palaypay went down the right side for the winner.
Kochie smacked down an overpass to open the second set for the Auks, who built up an 8-2 lead after consecutive aces from Colleen McCann. But the Pandas, behind Sobczyk’s hitting and solid all-around play from Audrey Lyons, scored 10 of the next 11 points to take a 12-9 lead.
The teams traded a few points, but Abby Kates stepped up for the Auks during a 4-1 stretch, scoring on consecutive kills and adding a block during that run. The Pandas battled back to take a 22-20 lead on a big swing, then a stuff by Sobczyk. Archmere did not fold, and they evened the match after a Pandas violation and a hitting error ended the set.
If the first two sets weren’t long enough, the next two made up for that, with both going to extra points. Kochie led the Auks during the early part of the third, which was tied 20 times. A Padua service error gave the Auks a 23-21 lead, which was the biggest until the final point of the set.
Archmere returned the favor with its own service miscue, and Sobczyk blocked Kochie to tie it at 23. Edmiston tipped a ball to give the Auks their first set point, but a hitting error knotted the score again. Mackenzi Popp went deep for the Auks, but Padua saved again on a Molen blast. Kates’ third-chance kill made it 26-25 Auks, but Sobczyk answered with a smash.
Palaypay gave the Pandas their first set point with a thunderous kill, but Archmere saved with a Kates block. But the Pandas scored the next two – the first when Meghan Peters was blocked out of bounds, the second on a hitting error – to escape and take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set was just as tense and well-played. Padua’s biggest lead early was three points, with Molen and Sobczyk doing much of the damage. The Auks found a groove midway through, helped by a Kochie bomb and a swing by Ava Scarpaci that went off the Pandas’ block and out of bounds that gave the Auks a 19-15 advantage.
Molen tied the score at 20 with an ace, and the Pandas eventually reached match point at 24-22 when Jackie Barnett sent a shot down the middle. The Auks saved once on a hitting error, then tied it at 24 on a violation by Padua. Three times Kochie gave the Auks set point on big kills, but twice the Pandas held off. With the score 27-26 in favor of the Auks, Scarpaci tipped a ball over the net that was deflected but hit the floor. A fifth set, appropriately, was in store.
McCann gave the Auks a 3-2 lead with an ace, but the Pandas took control with a four-point run. One of those was a miraculous save by Molen, who went hard to her left out of bounds near the referee’s stand, threw out her left arm and bumped the ball over the net, where it found the floor.
The Padua lead grew to 10-5 before Edmiston went off the Pandas’ block for what would be Archmere’s final point. Sobczyk scored on a tip, and Palaypay did the same after an Auks timeout. Sobczyk added one more kill before the match ended on two hitting errors.
It was Padua’s second straight five-set match, but Sobczyk said the team works to prepare for such a scenario.
“We work really hard during the season to prepare for these kinds of matches because this year it’s a pretty even playing field. Archmere has an incredible defense, and their hitters are amazing, so we just had to work through that. We knew that our hard work would get us through this game,” she said.
Not only did they play five sets again, both they and the Auks had to wait through a five-set match between No. 1 Newark Charter and No. 24 Wilmington Friends before they played. Sobczyk said the players had to get in the right mindset, stretch and go through their pre-match rituals while waiting.
The Pandas (14-3) will battle the Quakers, who upset the top-seeded Patriots. Their match will begin shortly after the first semifinal between No. 3 Ursuline and No. 2 Saint Mark’s.
“Friends is definitely a really good team. They have a strong defense, and they have some pretty smart hitters. We’re excited to play them, for sure,” Sobczyk said.
Sobczyk finished with 19 kills, five blocks and 10 digs. Molen had 15 kills and 30 digs, while Palaypay added 13 kills and 20 digs. Sarah Pritchard, the libero, paced the Pandas with 47 digs.
For the Auks, Kochie finished an outstanding high school career with 22 kills, five blocks and 26 digs. Kates had 10 kills and five blocks, while Maddie Fisher and Wright each collected 33 digs. The Auks ended the season with a record of 12-5.