MILLTOWN – With their biggest hitter on the bench, Ursuline’s volleyball team knew it would need other players to step up to help fill the gap against a very good opponent. And step up they did, as the defending state champions defeated St. Mark’s on the road Sept. 27 by a 3-0 score. Set scores were 25-18, 27-25, and 25-20.
With Corinne Furey sidelined with a walking boot on her left foot, coach Sue Heiss simply needed her other bigs to do a little more. Kylie Nocket continued her strong play this season, contributing a team-leading 13 kills, and Ursuline also had significant help from, among others, Emma Popham, Avery Brown, Abby Rzucidlo and Grace Nordmeyer in advancing to 5-0 on the year.
Early on, it appeared as if the top-ranked Raiders would make quick work of their Catholic Conference rival. Popham opened the scoring with a kill, and Ursuline scored eight of the next nine points to jump out to the 11-1 lead. The Raiders were combining an efficient offense with their usual standout defense to get the big advantage.
Led by all-state contender Savannah Seemans, the fourth-ranked Spartans tried to mount a comeback. They cut it to eight on a vicious back-line attack, and a tip by Abby Thibodeau into the middle of the floor made it 15-9. Ursuline used a mini-run to stretch the lead again, using a Rzucidlo ace, a Markel block and a Brown smash to make it set point, 24-14.
With Seemans on serve, the Spartans refused to fold, fighting off four set points. An unforced error brought the set to a close.
Three straight aces from Thibodeau staked St. Mark’s to a 5-2 lead in the second set. The teams, however, were just getting started. The Spartans did get the lead back to four points at 13-9, but this one would remain close. Popham and Nocket delivered kills in succession to cut it to 13-11, and a hitting error gave another point to the Raiders. Nocket then tied the score with a dink.
It was tied at 16 before the Raiders threatened to run away with the set. Nocket completely missed on a kill attempt, but the result was a ball that handcuffed the Spartans. Ursuline scored the next four and led at one point, 23-19, but then it was St. Mark’s time to its resilience. Brooke Dow smashed one down to start the run, and a hitting error leveled it at 23, causing the spirited St. Mark’s student section to encourage the Raiders to “talk it over” during a timeout.
They did, sending it to set point four times. On the first three of those, the Spartans found a way to survive. Nocket earned her team the win with a tip over the block.
The third was close throughout, with St. Mark’s holding an 11-9 lead at one point. Ursuline responded with an 11-5 run, scoring in succession on kills down the left side from Nocket, the right side from Popham, an ace from Sydney Davis that caught the end line, and a Rzuxidlo jam.
The Spartans fought back, cutting the deficit to three at 23-20 on Seemans’ last kill, her match-high 24th. Two unforced errors brought the evening to an end.
Popham had nine kills for the Raiders, while Brown contributed six. Davis had 13 digs and Markel 12. The Raiders travel to Bishop Shanahan (Pa.) on Saturday for a tri-meet before returning home next Wednesday for their first meeting with Padua.
For the Spartans, Thibodeau had seven kills and three aces. Seemans led the way with 11 digs. St. Mark’s (4-2) is home on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Delaware Military Academy.