WILMINGTON – Inside a sold-out, electric gymnasium Oct. 26 at Ursuline Academy, the bodies were flying as the host Raiders and their top-ranked archrival, Padua, put on a volleyball show worthy of a late-round tournament match. The No. 2 Raiders played tough on Senior Night, but the Pandas completed an unbeaten regular season with a 3-1 victory.
The set scores were 25-11, 18-25, 25-20, and 25-21.
The match was an exhibition of top-notch defense from start to finish, with players from both teams throwing their bodies around for digs or knocking down kill attempts at the net. Padua libero Katie McGonigal finished the night with 39 digs, while Ursuline’s Davis sisters, Sam and Sydney, had 24 and 13, respectively.
An early six-point run spotted Padua to an 8-2 lead in the first, with Emily Jarome and Jess Molen providing the power and, to get around the Raiders’ wall, the finesse. Emma Lucey contributed a few points on second-hit dumps, and an ace by Mackenzie Sobczyk made it 14-5 and prompted Ursuline to call a timeout.
Padua kept up the pressure out of the break, and the lead continued to grow. The set ended on an ace by Taylor Mueller.
Ursuline rebounded well in the second set, although the Pandas had a 6-4 lead at one point. Abby Rzucidlo tied it with an ace just inside the end line, but the teams ended up trading points for much of the set. The Raiders trailed, 13-12, when Taylor Wright knotted it up with a cross-court winner. Wright then assumed the serve and offered up a service winner followed by an ace, and the home team took a 15-13 lead.
Cassidy Markel and Rzucidlo then threw up a block, extending the lead to three, and Kylie Nocket followed with one a few points later. Corinne Furey had three kills in a four-point span to make it 21-17, and after a Padua point, Ursuline closed it out with four straight to tie the match.
Sam Davis and McGonigal put on a defensive show in the fourth. Davis got under a Jarome smash early on, and McGonigal equaled her on the same rally, stepping in front of a Furey blast. The Pandas kept their lead around three points, but the Raiders fought back to tie it at 12.
The teams were tied as late as 15-15, but Padua went on a mini-run to go ahead, 18-15. They held off Ursuline’s attempts to climb back, and a block by Michelle Kozicki extended the lead to four, 21-17. Jarome pushed one over to get to set point, and McGonigal closed the set out with a tape ace.
The fourth set was a tight one from the beginning. The Raiders opened up a five-point advantage at 12-7 on kills by Nocket and Furey and an ace by Markel. Padua coach Lauren DiSabatino called a timeout, but the Raiders maintained the five-point lead as late as 14-9.
The Pandas tied it at 16, and with the score even at 17, Jarome blasted two winners to give her team the 19-17 lead. Ursuline would get to within a point at 22-21 on another kill by Wright, but the Pandas closed it out with a pair of kills by Molen sandwiched around an unforced error.
McGonigal said defense has been a focus at practice, and it showed. “I feel like we’ve learned from a lot of our games. We just came out to play, and we tried to get everything up that was possible.”
Molen finished with 23 kills and 11 digs, while Jarome had 22 kills and added 15 digs. The Pandas are the likely No. 1 seed in the state tournament and will be off until the second round on Nov. 4.
“We’re excited. We won’t play any differently than we have. We’ll come out with a lot of energy; we’ll play as a team as always,” McGonigal said.
Wright led the Raiders with 15 kills, and Furey had 13. Ursuline is 12-2 and will visit St. Mark’s on Saturday at 1:45 p.m. for the final regular-season game in the state for 2017. The Raiders also are safely in the tournament. Seedings will be announced Sunday.