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Pandas, Auks need five thrilling sets to settle volleyball battle


Dialog reporter


CLAYMONT – Padua’s trip to Archmere on Friday night for a highly anticipated volleyball match held the promise of a potential playoff pairing. If this regular-season contest is any harbinger of the future, high school volleyball fans in Delaware should be praying to the sports gods that these teams meet again.

The third-ranked Pandas outlasted the second-ranked Auks, 3-2, Friday night before a loud, captivated crowd at Moglia Fieldhouse. Padua needed to come back from a two-set deficit to grab its 11th win of the season in dramatic fashion, 23-25, 18-25, 25-14, 25-20 and 15-10. The Pandas celebrated the improbable victory when junior hitter Lauren Mellor found a seam in the middle of the Auks’ defense after more than two hours of volleyball.

Lauren Mellor of Padua attempts to break the Archmere wall during the teams' match on Friday. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Lauren Mellor of Padua attempts to break the Archmere wall during the teams’ match on Friday. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

The match featured a little bit of everything – bruising kills, fingertip digs and one-armed saves. Stellar defense led to long, crowd-pleasing rallies and plenty of spectacular points. At the opening event of Archmere’s homecoming, a large contingent of students was part of a capacity crowd, and they were in full voice.

The drama started immediately in the opening game as the teams were neck-and-neck. The tide changed somewhat when, with Padua up, 12-10, Mellor was forced from the floor after rolling and ankle. Padua extended the lead to 14-10 before Archmere began to climb back. With senior Sami Mengers on serve, the home team scored seven straight, prompting a Padua timeout. Mellor, who had returned, tied things at 23 with a kill, but Archmere took the set on a smash by Grace Merritt off the face of a Panda, followed by a block by Zoe Akoto.

“In that first set, we kind of got a little bit lost when Lauren went out with that ankle roll. I think they were a little bit panicky. We haven’t seen too many injuries, so when that finally happens, it just gets all up in their heads,” Padua coach Lauren DiSabatino said.

The Archmere student section came out in force. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
The Archmere student section came out in force. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

Archmere took a two-game lead in the second as the Auks continued to bring their game while Padua seemed to check out early. Padua was beset by mental and physical errors, falling behind by as many as seven at 18-11 when Akoto was blocked out of bounds. That was the final margin of victory for the Auks, whose last three points in the set came on unforced Padua errors.

“We just looked like we were backing off. We had a plan, we came to do it, and we weren’t doing it,” DiSabatino said.

Padua sophomore hitter Emily Jarome agreed that the Pandas got away from their game plan. “We’ve been working on a lot of different spots to put the ball during practice. and in that second game, we didn’t utilize that at all.”

Archmere led, 8-6, in the third game before the tenor of the match changed. A big kill by Padua sophomore Jarome began a six-point run that included two aces by Emma Lucey, along with a kill and a block by junior Ella Welsh. The Pandas led, 13-10, before Mellor nailed consecutive kills, Jarome scored on a spike that kissed the end line, and junior Megan Barnett dropped an ace. As this was happening, much of Archmere’s starting lineup retreated to the bench for some rest.

Jarome shifted into a new gear in the fourth, leading the Pandas to tie the match. The Auks, however, had a 13-12 lead when Emma Lucey began the comeback with a kill. Ella Welsh and Jarome teamed up for consecutive blocks, then Jarome knocked another kill to the floor. Padua increased its advantage to 17-13 when a miraculous save by an unidentified Panda went over the net and somehow found the floor. Another Jarome blast, this one to the far right corner, completed the six-point run. The Pandas maintained the margin, and Mellor finished the set with a blast down the left sideline.

“We hit the ball wherever we could, we hit the serve where it needed to go. Everybody just went all out on every play,” Jarome said. “I think this is the most I’ve been on the floor my whole life.”

Padua appeared to be on its way to an easy 15 points in the deciding set, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. But Archmere stormed back, and when a block by Mengers fell to the floor, the score was 10-8. Padua regrouped, and Mellor, Jarome and Welsh carried the team to match point at 14-9. Archmere fought off one, but Mellor ended the long evening on match point No. 2.

Jarome paced the Pandas (11-2) with 22 kills, six blocks and 23 digs. Mellor had 17 kills and 15 digs, while libero Maddie Judge added 49 digs. Padua is off until Tuesday, when they host St. Mark’s for a scheduled 6:45 p.m. start.

For Archmere (11-2), Akoto had 10 kills and 13 digs, with Merritt adding nine kills and Mengers eight. Tori Falasco had 24 digs, just ahead of Mengers’ 22. The Auks welcome A.I. DuPont to Claymont next Thursday at 6:15 p.m.