Padua volleyball enjoyed a tremendously successful 2018, losing just once to an in-state foe and defeating both championship finalists. In fact, the Pandas were the last team to defeat Wilmington Charter. But the magic came to an end in the semifinals, when Charter exacted its revenge. The Pandas are determined not to have that happen again this season.
One of the most experienced teams in Delaware, Padua features seven seniors on its roster, including ferocious hitters Jess Molen and Grace Palaypay, middle blocker Michelle Kozicki, and back-line stalwarts Sarah Pritchard and Ireland Giaquinto. Audrey Lyons, a sophomore, is back doing the setting.
“We have a lot of good, strong returning players, like Mackenzie (Sobczyk) and Michelle. They are very important parts of our team that help us be successful,” Palaypay said.
Of course, a program as successful as theirs means the Pandas always have a target on their backs. Giaquinto said that is all right with them.
“It’s another motivator that helps us get to that next spot that we want to be in,” she said.
Molen, a first-team all-state selection last year, liked what she saw from her team as the preseason progressed.
“Our team, we’re just really coming together. We’re going to try to play competitively, play as a team, move fast, communicate well. If we do those things, we’ll be in good competition,” she said.
The goal every season, of course, is a state championship, and the Pandas will be battle-tested by the time Nov. 11 rolls around. In addition to two matches each against their Catholic Conference rivals, they will travel to Wilmington Charter, Notre Dame (Pa.), Tower Hill and Archmere. Visitors to Padua’s cozy gymnasium include Friends, Paul VI (Va.), Delaware Military, Tatnall and Newark Charter.
Palaypay doesn’t mind the tough matches night after night. “Those competitive and high-intensity games are always more fun to play and be a part of, and I think that’s when you make the best memories.”
Molen knows the level of competition is high, but when top-tier teams come together, talent is not the factor in play in determing a winner. She believes the Pandas have those intangibles.
“I think it’s all about how we gel together as a team because every team has talented players,” she said. “What I think separates us from some of the other teams is that we connect on and off the floor. Our communication is something that we’re going to focus on this year, and making those connections on the floor will really help us take that step ahead.”
And as Padua begins its march toward the Bob Carpenter Center, Giaquinto said they are aware of what previous Pandas teams have done, but they can only concentrate on the current season.
“I don’t feel a ton of pressure because each team has their own mindset and goals for what they’re trying to achieve. Each year, we’ve been getting progressively better and better. There’s pressure to exceed what we did the year before.”
Home matches in CAPS
Sept. 10, 5:15 p.m.: Wilmington Charter
Sept. 12, 7:15 p.m.: FRIENDS
Sept. 14, 2 p.m.: Academy of Notre Dame (Pa.)
Sept. 17, 7:15 p.m.: Saint Mark’s
Sept. 21, 1 p.m.: PAUL VI (Va.)
Sept. 24, 7:15 p.m.: ST. ELIZABETH
Sept. 26, 7:15 p.m.: DELAWARE MILITARY
Sept. 30, 7:15 p.m.: TATNALL
Oct. 2, 7:15 p.m.: URSULINE
Oct. 7, 5:15 p.m.: Tower Hill
Oct. 10, 7:15 p.m.: St. Elizabeth
Oct. 15, 7:15 p.m.: NEWARK CHARTER
Oct. 18, 6:15 p.m.: Archmere
Oct. 22, 7:15 p.m.: SAINT MARK’S
Oct., 24, 7:15 p.m.: Ursuline