MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s 2020 volleyball team will remember a few things about their unique season, which ended the night of Dec. 12 with a sweep of Padua and a state championship.
First and foremost, of course, is the ending. The Spartans won the school’s 11th state championship, second only to Ursuline in number, and they did so with a perfect 15-0 record. It was their first championship since 2011, when the tournament field included just 16 teams instead of the current 24. One of the members of the Spartans’ back-to-back state champs in 2010 and 2011, Peyton Reno, is now an assistant coach.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic also made this a season like no other. The state final was contested at Saint Mark’s instead of the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware, and instead of end zones filled with color-coordinated students from both schools, the only spectators were two members of each player’s family. The atmosphere was definitely something the players noticed.
“We really had to make our own energy since our student section is always making a lot of energy for us,” senior Kyla Dow said after the match. “It’s a big thing for us to change. It’s not the same without our student section here cheering us on.”
Dow also had the opportunity to win alongside her sister, Brooke, a junior. The pair played together for Saint Mark’s for the past three seasons, something they both will cherish as Kyla moves on to the University of Tampa (Fla.) after she graduates.
“We’re really close, so it’s awesome to be able to share it with your sister,” Kyla said.
Although they hadn’t won the championship in nine years, the Spartans remained one of Delaware’s top programs. The school has produced several all-state players, as well as the 2019 state player of the year, Savannah Seemans. It was an injury Seemans suffered in the title match last season that helped to provide motivation for the 2020 squad. She tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the first set that night, and Padua went on to a 3-1 victory.
“It’s like the best feeling in the world because last year we lost, obviously. This year, it’s just an amazing feeling to be able to get that banner on the wall,” Brooke Dow said.
Libero Sam Gerhart said the Spartans knew how good Padua was, so they could never let their guard down.
“Padua is such a good team,” she said. “They’ve got good players. We’ve got good players, too. But I think it’s just the drive that we had really pushed us tonight. Especially because we let it go last year. It was really motivating us.”
Sophomore Julia Yurkovich led the way in the championship match with 17 kills and 13 digs. She explained that the team didn’t need any extra push to get ready for the 2020 season, which was not even guaranteed to take place until late September.
“We’re working in the gym every single day after school. We just pushed so hard to get to this point, and we did it. I’m just super-proud of everyone and just the dedication that the team has,” Yurkovich said.
The Spartans lost just five sets all season, four to teams that reached the DIAA semifinals with them: Delaware Military Academy (one), Padua (one), and Wilmington Friends (two). Archmere was the other team to take a set from Saint Mark’s; that happened in the second round of the tournament.
Coach Nancy Griskowitz watched from the sidelines as her players celebrated their accomplishment. The word that kept coming to her when describing this group of Spartans was “proud.”
“This team never gave up. This team battled every game, every match. They’ve got awesome team chemistry. They’re so talented. It’s an incredible team, and I’m just so proud of them,” Griskowitz said.
Gerhart is one of four seniors on the roster. The others are Kyla Dow, Madison Znacko and Caroline Detrick. They will graduate knowing that they have contributed to Saint Mark’s robust state championship tradition.
“It’s such a big accomplishment, and I cannot believe that we did it,” Gerhart said. “We all put in so much dedication. I’m just so glad to be a part of this team.”
All photos by Don Blake.