WILMINGTON – Wilmington Charter bounced back from a first-set meltdown, overwhelming Ursuline in the final three sets for a 3-1 nonconference volleyball win Oct. 18 at a packed Laffey-McHugh Gymnasium. Set scores were 22-25, 25-17, 25-13, and 25-19.
It was a highly anticipated match between the host Raiders, ranked third in the state by 302Sports.com, and the Force, ranked fourth. The last time the teams met, they needed five sets and more than three hours to determine a winner in the quarterfinal round of the 2017 state tournament. The Raiders rebounded from a 2-0 deficit to take that one, but this time, the Force prevailed.
A pattern was established in the opening set, although the ending of that one was different from the other three. Sydney Davis opened the match with an ace for Ursuline, but Maddie Matheny would tie the score with her first kill. With the score tied at two, Charter went on a five-point run that included Ava MacMurray crushing an overpass, an ace from Mallory McCormick, and a tip kill from Matheny.
MacMurray finished a 6-1 run later on to give the Force a 20-12 lead, but the Raiders went on their own 6-1 streak, with an ace by Cassidy Markel cutting the Force’s lead to 21-18. Isabel Lugar smacked down another overpass to put the Force ahead, 22-18, but with Kaitlin Burns on serve, the Raiders ran off the final seven points of the set to complete the improbably comeback. Kylie Nocket had three kills during that closing stretch.
In the early stages of the second set, Abby Rzucidlo smashed a kill to bring Ursuline to within one at 6-5, but Matheny – who was effectively shut down in the latter part of the first set – scored on three consecutive kills, and McCormick served up an ace to push the lead to 10-5. The Force continued to stretch the lead, and an 8-2 run made it 22-11. There would be no comeback this time, and MacMurray, a freshman who stands six feet tall, went off the block to wrap it up.
The teams were neck-and-neck in the third, with a kill from Grace Nordmeyer and a Charter hitting error bringing the Raiders to within one at 8-7. But a crosscourt winner from Lugar, and another smash off the right hand of Matheny down the left sideline began a six-point run. The Raiders responded with four consecutive of their own, culminating with another Burns ace, but Charter, aided by some untimely unforced errors, easily held off the hosts to take the 2-1 lead.
Charter sent notice that they had no intention of playing a fifth set, scoring the first seven of the fourth. Two of those points were Isabel Lugar punishing the Raiders for overpasses, and Matheny continued her hot play. A Rzucidlo stuff pulled the Raiders to within four at 9-5, but Matheny killed the next two for the Force.
Kenzie Swanson got into the act for the Force, throwing up a block for one point, tipping a ball into a hole for another, then sending a lefthanded shot over on two to make it 18-9. Corinna Bialecki killed one to send it to match point, and the Raiders were able to save two of those before Charter called a timeout. On the first point after the timeout, Dani Waltz went off the Raiders’ block, and the Force celebrated an impressive victory.
Nocket led the Raiders with 11 kills, and she and Markel had 16 digs each. Davis and Burns each had 15 digs, while Avery Brown finished with seven kills. Ursuline (10-2) hosts St. Elizabeth on Saturday at 1:45 p.m.
For the Force, Matheny showed her all-state form with 22 kills and 18 digs. Lugar had 13 kills, while McCormick tied Matheny for the lead in digs. Charter won its eighth straight to improve to 10-2; the Force are home Monday at 6:30 p.m. against Wilmington Friends.