WILMINGTON — The gymnasium at Ursuline Academy was filled the night of Sept. 26 for the highly anticipated Catholic Conference volleyball matchup between visiting Saint Mark’s and the host Raiders. A fair number of Spartans fans were on hand, but this was, after all, an Ursuline home match. And as the Raiders took the first set, the decibel level increased significantly.
But Saint Mark’s bounced back with a big second set, and they kept the momentum going through two more, leaving with a 3-1 win in a battle of two of the state’s remaining undefeated teams. Set scores were 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, and 25-18.
With the win, the Spartans wrapped up the month of September at 7-0 and a week that included a triumph over another unbeaten foe, having defeated Archmere, 3-1, on Tuesday. The road to victory on Thursday, as expected, was not easy.
In fact, the first set very much belonged to the Raiders. Two aces from Cassidy Markel helped them get off to a 5-0 start. Avery Brown and Kylie Nocket heated up the hitting, and the Raiders at one point led, 10-4. But, as would be the case all night, big leads had a tendency to dissipate.
The Raiders’ lead was 15-11 after Emma Popham split two defenders with a spike, but the Spartans fought back. An ace from Alyssa Berggrun knotted the score at 18, and it was tied once more, at 19. But Ursuline reeled off six of the final seven points, the final two being a crush from Brown and an ace by Sydney Davis.
Saint Mark’s took an early lead in the second as Savannah Seemans and Julia Yurkovich provided some big swings. The Spartans used outstanding defense all night to keep points going, and another Berggrun ace staked them to a 21-14 lead. She delivered another ace to make it 23-14, and a block gave the Spartans a commanding 24-14 advantage. Turns out the fun was just beginning.
The Raiders got the serve back thanks to a kill by Hannah Kelly, and Heyli Velasquez took the serve. Brown scored on a block. Emma Raftovich crushed the next point. Brown added the next two kills, and it was 24-19. Markel crossed and found a hole, and the Spartans committed two unforced errors. Brown added another smash off the Saint Mark’s block, and Ursuline had fought off nine set points. But Yurkovich restored the normal heartbeats of the Spartans’ faithful by blasting a shot off the Raiders’ wall and out of bounds. The match was tied.
The teams were back and forth in the third set, although consecutive blocks by Serena Pluta helped the Spartans to a 9-4 lead. Seemans added a kill to extend the Saint Mark’s run to six points, and a bit later on she served up back-to-back aces to give her team a 17-10 lead. The Raiders fought back, drawing within 21-19 on a Spartans miscue. But Yurkovich ended the set by smacking a ball off the Raiders and out of bounds to put Saint Mark’s up, 2-1.
So it was on to a fourth frame, and the spectacular defense and thunderous hitting continued. The Spartans jumped to a small early lead, thanks in part to an Abby Thibodeau block, and another from Brooke Dow. Kyla Dow connected on a sharp-angle crosscourt push to make it 9-5, and the Spartans scored three of the next four points to sent it to 12-6.
Spartans errors helped the Raiders get back to within one at 12-11, and Brown went far left corner to tie the set. It was tied at 13 before a run of four straight and seven of eight – the last point on another Pluta block – made it 20-14 for the visitors. The Raiders got no closer than four the rest of the way, and Saint Mark’s big guns scored their final three points. Seemans went crosscourt just inside the line. Yurkovich displayed raw power in going straight down, and Yurkovich ended it by blasting one off the Raiders’ wall and out of bounds.
Seemand had a monster night, finishing with 24 kills, four aces, two blocks and 24 digs. Yurkovich added a dozen kills. Brooke Dow and Pluta each had four blocks. The Spartans finished with 16 blocks overall. Saint Mark’s (7-0) travels to Delaware Military on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.
For Ursuline, Brown had 18 kills, while Nocket added 12 and Popham 10. The Raiders (4-1) will participate in a tri-meet this Saturday at Bishop Shanahan (Pa.) beginning at 10 a.m.