WILMINGTON — With a spot in the 24-team DIAA volleyball tournament field not a certainty, the Ursuline Raiders needed a big night on Oct. 27 in their penultimate match of the season. Playing in perhaps her final home contest, Hannah Kelley delivered.
The senior hitter played an inspired fourth set as the Raiders held off a spirited challenge from rival Padua for a 3-1 victory. Set scores were 24-26, 25-13, 25-22, and 25-17.
Both teams are projected to make the field, but the winner of this one would earn critical points toward their total used in the formula to decide the seedings. The Pandas entered with a few more points for strength of schedule.
The stars aligned to make this a special night at Laffey-McHugh Gymnasium. It was senior night for the Raiders, and both teams had boisterous student sections that included numerous Salesianum students. Some of the boys had their chests painted with Padua’s black and gold, others in Raiders red and black. And the crowd included retired longtime Ursuline athletic director and volleyball coach Sue Heiss.
They were treated to a match full of booming hits and spectacular defense in an atmosphere more common at a late-round state tournament meeting. Padua captured the first set, one in which they trailed, 19-18, before three consecutive kills from Aanya Yatavelli provided the first three points in a 4-0 run. Ursuline got it to set point on an ace from Hayley Timmons, but the Pandas evened the score on an unforced error and won it on two straight kills from Mary Mancini.
The Raiders had a 10-6 lead in the second before the Pandas scored four straight to tie, a streak that included consecutive aces from Ally Lang and a stuff by Hannah McGuigan. Ursuline, however, answered with the next nine points, a run that concluded with a block from Juliette Cummings and a tap by Kelley. Cece DeCaro ended the set by knocking down a Pandas overpass.
The energized Raiders continued the onslaught into the third, scoring the first 10 points. Kelley started the fun with a kill off the Pandas’ wall, and Cummings had three blocks in that stretch. The Pandas’ comeback began with a tap by Vanessa Mancini to the open hole in the middle of the Ursuline defense.
The Pandas took advantage of some Raiders errors and a Liv Bowers ace to chip away at the deficit. Yatavelli began a 4-0 run with a kill that handcuffed the Raiders’ defense, and Libby Neiburg followed with an attack that ticked the end line. Kaitlyn Leberstien fired an ace before Yatavelli bookended the run with a stuff. That cut the Ursuline lead to 14-10.
It appeared as if the Raiders would keep the Pandas at bay, but consecutive attacks late by Neiburg made the score 21-20 Ursuline. The margin remained at one point, with Ursuline in the lead 23-22, before Kelley got it to set point with a push, and an attack by Kelley was blocked out of bounds by the Pandas.
The final set was a back-and-forth affair for a bit, although three Kelley bombs early on helped the Raiders take an 11-7 lead. Mary Mancini got two of those back, first with a smash off the Ursuline wall, then adding an ace. Padua kept up the pressure, finally forging a tie at 13 on a net violation by the Raiders.
The Pandas took a 15-14 lead thanks to a Logan Tuschinski kill, but Julia Terzaghi got the equalizer, the start of an 8-0 run with Kleitz on serve. One of those points came on a monster swing from Kelley that was dug by the Pandas, but the ball came back over the net. Kelley smashed that overpass straight down. She added a block and smacked a kill into the Padua wall on the next point to extend the lead to 22-15.
Padua scored out of a timeout, but Kelley crushed a kill. Mancini scored again, and again Kelley picked up a kill, this one tapped over to make it match point. The teams rallied for 40 seconds on the final point, which came on a swing by DeCaro that the Pandas could not return.
Kelley paced Ursuline with 25 kills and five blocks. The Raiders (6-8) battle Saint Mark’s on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the last regular-season match in the state.
Yatavelli and Mancini each had 11 kills to lead Padua. The Pandas (5-9) host Paul VI (N.J.) tonight at 6:30 in their regular-season finale.
All photos by Mike Lang.