NEWARK – Ursuline’s 2017 state volleyball championship is the school’s first since 2009, but for coach Sue Heiss and her players – in particular the seniors – it means so much more. Taylor Wright and Sam Davis were on the varsity squad as freshmen in 2014, a campaign remembered more for the fact that the Raiders missed the state tournament than the team’s improvement upon 2013’s win total by four matches.
The Raiders’ 8-7 mark in 2014 was not enough to get them into the final 16-team state tournament. The seeds had been planted, however, for this year’s championship, which the school earned on Nov. 13 with a five-set nail-biter over Catholic Conference rival Padua at the Bob Carpenter Center.
Ursuline added a few more pieces in 2015, including freshman Abby Rzucidlo and eighth-grader Corinne Furey. The team managed an 11-4 regular-season record, and the Raiders reached the consolation match at the Bob and a third-place finish in the state.
With yet more of a foundation in place, the 2016 Raiders again went 11-4 and, as the sixth seed in the state tourney, reached the final against Delaware Military Academy. Players including Kylie Nocket, Cassidy Markel, Emma Popham and Sydney Davis were on the other side of the five-set decision last year, as DMA won a second straight state championship.
All those experiences – and all of those players, plus a few more – contributed to the Raiders’ title run, coach Sue Heiss said.
“Last year we were second with a really young team, and that helped. That set up this tonight. You have to be here to know how to react when you play. And my kids just played tonight. They weren’t afraid. They just went after it, and they played. It was just amazing to see them do that,” Heiss said.
Nobody enjoyed losing last season, but Wright, who played a sensational all-around match against Padua, said it gave the team motivation heading into this year.
“Knowing how it feels to be the other team in that situation motivated us to try our hardest, work harder, to succeed in this game,” she said.
Davis said the players know the volleyball history at Ursuline, and they wanted to bring the hardware back to Pennsylvania Avenue.
“There’s no words to describe it,” she said. “I’m just so proud of everyone and what we’ve accomplished this year. We’ve gotten so much closer and so much better every time we’ve touched the ball, and it’s such an amazing feeling to just win with this family and this team.”
Seeing the progress has been satisfying, Wright said.
“It means a lot. Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve moved up. To be able to win the state championship our last year, it’s just amazing,” she said.
The title ended an eight-year drought for the Raiders. It is Ursuline’s 12th championship, and Heiss has coached 11 of those teams. She said all of them are special, but this one will be memorable in part because of the turnaround the current players have helped engineer.
“It’s sweet because it’s been a while, and this group of kids is so fantastic,” she said. “They’re fun to be with, and they’re just wonderful with each other. They deserve this win.”