SMYRNA — When Cape Henlopen’s volleyball team took the first set from Salesianum in the inaugural Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association championship match, there was little reason for panic on the Sals’ bench. The Sals had been in this position before, just as recently as last week, when Delaware Military Academy won the first set of their semifinal match by an identical 25-23 score.
The Sals took the next three sets from the Seahawks to advance. This time, however, there would be no comeback. Second-seeded Cape stymied the top-seeded Salesianum attack all evening long, and the Vikings’ took home the state championship with a 3-0 sweep on May 23 at Smyrna High School. Set scores were 25-23, 25-19, and 25-17 in front of a boisterous crowd.
The Vikings, who fell in straight sets to the Sals in Wilmington last month, were in control from the outset in the final. Cape’s Talan Stephens served to open the match, and a violation on the Sals put the Vikings in front.
It was close early, with Sallies’ Christian Sullivan pounding a kill that pulled his team to within one at 5-4. But a blast from Cape Henlopen’s Charlie Casas started a 6-0 run to stretch the lead to seven before Anthony Molitor of the Sals stuffed an overpass to stop the damage.
Salesianum fought back, closing to within 15-11 on a Connor Brown block and knotting the set at 20 on a Vikings error. Cape coach Tyler Coupe, a Salesianum alumnus, called a timeout, but Molitor gave the Sals their first lead at 21-20 on a block. The lead grew to 23-21 after consecutive Cape errors, but the Vikings took advantage of a pair of Sallies miscues to get it back even. William Cerf scored on a block to send it to set point, and the Vikings won it on a Sals error.
A big reason for Cape’s success was their ability to disrupt the Sals’ attack. The Vikings’ front line was able to keep the Sals’ big hitters from finding open space, and when they did, the back line was there.
“Our block touch was phenomenal. Not just the actual stuff blocking, but the block touches and slowing it down for us. That’s what set us apart tonight,” Coupe said.
“We weren’t worried about what they were going to do. We have an idea of how they were going to run their offense in certain situations, so we were prepared for it, but we didn’t make any in-game adjustments because we prepared so well over the past few days.”
The Vikings’ Brady Lamb opened the second set with a kill down the left side, adding to an impressive evening for the senior. Cape’s lead grew to 8-4 on a Casas smash, but two errors and a kill from Andrew Mahoney tied the score at 8-8. It was also level at 9-9 before the Vikings took control.
They scored nine of the next 11 points, with Odin Potemski accouting for three of those with hard attacks. The Sals stayed within seven points for a few more exchanges before Lamb scored on a back-line attack after a terrific save by his teammates to make the score 22-14. Dylan Henry sent it to set point with a kill, and after saves by Brown and Mahoney, Lamb ended the second with yet another kill.
The third set was back and forth for a bit. Sullivan found success on a tip kill to put Salesianum on top, 10-9, but the Vikings, as they did all night, responded. They scored the next four points, but the Sals fought back, tying the game at 16 with a stretch that included a stuff for Reid Maas and a Sullivan bomb.
But Henry sent an attack off the end line to begin a championship-winning 9-3 run, the Cape student section growing louder with each point. After a Sals hitting miscue, Lamb sent a kill off a Sals player and out of bounds. Two errors extended the lead to five. Henry threw up another block, Casas delivered a service winner, and Lamb sent it to match point with a tip that landed on the sideline. The Sals saved one match point, but a service error brought the evening to an end.
Coupe said he and his coaching staff did not change much after the loss at Salesianum in April. The first two sets there were close before the Sals pulled away in the third.
“We played well against them in-season,” he said. “We lost the first two sets by five or six total, so we knew we could hang with them. We knew we had a chance to beat them. We just had to execute on a much more consistent basis. We did that tonight.”
Final statistics were not available late Tuesday night. Both teams finished with a record of 17-1.
All photos by Mike Lang.