WILMINGTON – On an emotional night on Broom Street, the Padua volleyball team fought off a game challenge by Caravel to sweep the Buccaneers in volleyball. Set scores were 25-16, 25-23 and 25-23.
Before the game, the Padua Dance Team performed a routine to the song “Rather Be” by Queen Bandit as a tribute to former member Erin Wendelburg. It was the dance team’s first home game since Wendelburg, who graduated from Padua this past May, died last Thursday after a battle with brain cancer.
Tori Simpson, the dance team coach, said the somber mood was something to which her girls are not accustomed. She said for them, the evening “was therapeutic because they know that going forward that every performance and every game, they’re doing it in her name.
“For me, this is my sixth year coaching here, and I never thought I would be in this position, but I am. My main purpose is the girls and helping them heal with acceptance that she’s in a better place. Her spirit is definitely living among us. I felt it out there while they were dancing,” Simpson said.
When the volleyball started, the Pandas came out inspired. Minutes into the match, they led, 10-4, after a big block by Vanessa Crumety that deflected off a Buccaneers player and out of bounds. Padua led by as many as eight points at 22-14 and finished the set off on another block, this one by Haley Baker, to win by nine.
The Pandas kept the assault going in set two, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 7-3 lead thanks to a five-point run that included kills by Lauren Mellor and Stephanie Annone, plus a Megan Barnett ace. Despite big games from Brittany Ford and Caroline Davis, the Bucs found themselves staring at a 21-11 deficit when their improbable comeback began.
Davis scored on three straight blocks at one point, causing coach Lauren DiSabatino to burn a timeout with the score 21-16. Lindsey Pugh joined the block party on the next point, followed by an ace by Hanna Baffone and a kill by Christine Moore to cut the Padua lead to 21-19. The eight-point run ended there, and Padua seemed to right the ship by scoring the next two points.
Caravel, however, refused to give in, consistently finding holes and tying the game at 23 when Davis served one of her three aces. A Crumety kill made it set point, and the Pandas escaped with the win on an unforced error.
Padua’s Haley Baker said volleyball is a mental game, and that is where the Pandas needed to focus after nearly blowing the big lead.
“We played really well in the beginning. We started to die off toward the end. We had to push through it, and we won,” she said.
The teams were even for most of the third set, with several ties early before Caravel went on a bit of a run to go ahead, 13-9. Padua responded with four straight to tie it again at 13, but the Buccaneers regained a two-point advantage, 17-15, after two unforced Padua errors. The teams were tied at each point between 19 and 22 before the Pandas took it to match point on a push kill by Annone. After Caravel scored once more on a service error, the match ended on another service error. The Pandas could relax as the last serve traveled beyond the end line.
Baker said the dance team gave a “wonderful” performance, and the volleyball players were inspired by Wendelburg. “In the end we played for Erin, and it was all for her.”
Mellor led the Pandas with 10 kills, while Emily Jarome added eight and three others had five. Padua has won three straight and six of its last seven. The Pandas travel to Wilmington Friends on Thursday for a 5:15 p.m. match.
Caravel received 11 kills from Ford and seven from Davis. The Bucs (6-5) are home against Middletown on Thursday. Game time on senior night is 6:45 p.m.