WILMINGTON – St. Mark’s trailed Padua, two sets to none, in Tuesday night’s Catholic Conference volleyball showdown, but the Spartans came out fired up in the third game, taking a 10-3 advantage. The young Spartans, thought by some to be in a rebuilding year, withstood a furious comeback by the defending state champions, but in the end Padua just had too much.
Padua caught up to St. Mark’s at 23-all, lost the next point, then scored the final three of the night to prevail, 26-24, in the set and 3-0 in the match in a sold-out gymnasium. An ace down the left sideline by junior Megan Barnett sealed the comeback to give Padua its 22nd straight win over a Delawre opponent dating back to Oct. 23, 2012, when the Pandas lost a regular-season matchup at St. Mark’s.
Padua (2-1) also won the first set by a 26-24 score and the second, 25-15. Freshman Emily Jarome led the Pandas with 14 kills, while seniors Stephanie Annone added eight and Haley Baker seven. Senior libero Sarah Wiley led a strong defensive effort with 14 kills, and Barnett nailed four aces.
St. Mark’s was up by six in the final set, 21-15, when Padua ran off five straight to close within 21-20. Baker drilled an ace to forge the first tie at 23, but St. Mark’s (2-2) retook the lead on a point that included two spectacular digs by Spartans senior libero Lauren Sorantino. Padua took its first lead of the final set on a lift call on St. Mark’s, and Barnett then placed her ensuing serve down the left sideline to end it.
Wiley said no one on the Pandas’ side took St. Mark’s lightly.
“We knew St. Mark’s, they were going to be really scrappy, really good. That’s the way they’ve always been. The third game, we knew they weren’t going to come out and give up. They never do. But we just tried to keep it in our control, in our tempo,” she said.
Padua senior Vanessa Crumety said playing St. Mark’s brings an extra intensity. “It is so much fun. I always look forward to playing St. Mark’s. That home game is so much fun. I just love all the fans that come. When they cheer, when we score a point, it just shoots energy through my veins.”
The first set was back and forth, with the two squads tied an amazing 17 times. The set featured some uneven play, with several service and unforced errors. Jarome showed flashes of her strong play during the set, but St. Mark’s established early that they would not be intimidated by the tall righty. Senior Kennedy Staudt and junior Kara Wirt did an impressive job cutting off Jarome’s hitting lanes, and the pair blocked a fair number of potential winners.
Several of those that did get through found the hands of Sorantino, who spent much of the night seemingly coming out of nowhere to foil an attempted kill. Pandas senior Vanessa Crumety said Padua knew St. Mark’s would field an outstanding defense, so the Pandas had to work to find new lanes to score.
The teams were close through much of the second set, but Padua pulled away as it wore on.
Sorantino had 15 digs in a fantastic defensive effort. Sophomore Genevieve Hughes led the Spartans with five kills, and Staudt had six blocks.
Padua is back in action Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. against the state’s No. 2 team, Concord. Wiley said the Raiders present a formidable challenge, particularly up front, where they feature Emily Panchak and Abigail Dischert. Wiley said the next two days of practice are of paramount importance.
“Emily’s a very big hitter. Their servers are very good, so we’re just going to try to go after our serve receive, focus on defense, work on blocking,” Wiley said.
St. Mark’s travels to the St. E Center for a match Thursday against St. Elizabeth at 7:30 p.m.