MILLTOWN – For two and a half sets on Sept. 17, the Saint Mark’s volleyball team was in control against Catholic Conference foe Padua. The Spartans took the first two sets and had a six-point lead in the third before the Pandas mounted a serious comeback. But Saint Mark’s fought off five set points in the third and won, 31-29, to sweep their rival in front of a large, boisterous crowd.
The set scores were 25-17, 25-19 and 31-29.
A rotation violation on Padua gave Saint Mark’s an 18-12 lead in the third, but the set was just getting started. The Pandas began the comeback with three straight unforced errors on the Spartans, prompting a timeout for the hosts. Peyton Sullivan delivered an ace out of the timeout for the Pandas to make it 18-16, but the Spartans scored the next two. Padua, with Audrey Lyons on the serve, tied it up, and the back-and-forth was on.
The score was tied at every point between 20-20 and 29-29. Padua reached set point for the first time at 24-23 on a hitting error, but the Spartans held. That happened four more times before Saint Mark’s reached match point at 29-28 on a blast by senior Savannah Seemans. Padua tied it one more time before the Spartans finally put it away, and to no one’s surprise, Seemans scored the final two points.
With the score tied at 29, Sam Gerhart robbed the Pandas of an ace with a pancake. Katie Sonchen set it for Seemans, who drilled a spike off the fingertips of the Padua block to send it back to match point. Then the same trio teamed up again. Gerhart went back to dig a Padua attempt, and Sonchen laid it up for Seemans. This time, she went cross court off the tape and inside the sideline, setting off a celebration among the team and their black-clad schoolmates, who filled two sections of the bleachers.
Seemans said the Spartans expected a battle, especially after going up two sets.
“We knew Padua would come back, so we had to keep fighting. Our mentality was we had to keep pushing and never let up,” she said.
The win was Saint Mark’s first over the Pandas since 2012, when the Spartans were undefeated during the regular season. That team featured current assistant coach Peyton Reno, and two siblings of current Spartans: Amanda Gerhart and Claudia Seemans. In the ensuing six seasons, the Spartans and Pandas had met 14 times, and Saint Mark’s had won just four sets.
Early on in the first set, there was every indication that the entire match would be as tight as the third. The Pandas held a 10-8 lead before the Spartans began their run. Julia Yurkovich tied it up on a deep kill down the middle, and after a hitting error on Padua, Alyssa Berggrun delivered consecutive aces to make it 13-10. Before the set was over, Sonchen handcuffed the Pandas on two more aces, and the visitors committed a few unforced errors.
Mackenzie Sobczyk helped keep Padua within striking distance with several spikes and some timely blocks, but Saint Mark’s took it to 23-17. Seemans was on the serve, and she just caught the end line for an ace to send it to set point. Her next serve tied up the Pandas’ receiver, ending the set.
Both teams turned up the defense in the second set, with Sarah Pritchard coming up with some big digs for the Pandas, including a few off Seemans, and the Spartans’ Serena Pluta throwing her own block party. A kill by Pluta helped Saint Mark’s open up a 6-3 lead, and Mya Lewis followed with an ace, causing the Pandas to take a timeout.
The Spartans stretched the lead to six on a Kyla Dow spike off the Padua block and a Lewis dink one into an open spot on the floor. Michelle Kozicki sent one straight down for Padua to cut the Saint Mark’s lead to 13-10, but the Spartans responded with a four-point run, the last one a Seemans smash off the Padua block and out of bounds. Padua saved two set points, but that would be it.
Seemans continued her fantastic season with 20 kills, two aces, three blocks and eight digs. Yurkovich had six kills and Lewis five. Pluta led the way with four blocks, and the Spartans were credited with 10 aces. The Spartans remained undefeated at 4-0 and welcome St. Elizabeth to the big gym on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
“Overall, we know that serving tough and passing well is definitely super-important for us to win games, and at practice we push ourselves to keep working and to always get better,” Seemans said.
For Padua, Grace Palaypay had nine kills, with Jess Molen and Kozicki adding eight each and Sobczyk seven. Molen played well on defense, picking up a match-leading 13 digs, and Pritchard had 12. The Pandas (3-1) welcome annual opponent Paul VI (Va.) to Wilmington on Saturday. The match begins at 1 p.m.