WILMINGTON – Wilmington Charter was playing its third volleyball match in a week when the Force welcomed Padua to campus on Sept. 10. The Pandas, meanwhile, were taking the floor for the first time. Padua let Charter hang close for a little while, but they found their rhythm and swept the defending champions. Set scores were 25-18, 25-20 and 25-12.
The teams were meeting for the first time since last November, when Charter knocked the Pandas out of the state tournament in one semifinal. Both teams’ rosters look a bit different this season, but the Pandas appeared not to have forgotten that match.
The first two sets were relatively close, with the Force sticking close in both. In the opener, the teams were tied five times between 3-3 and 8-8. That is when the Pandas took control, at least for a bit. Sophomore Peyton Sullivan, making her varsity debut, delivered consecutive aces and three in a six-point run as the Pandas took a 13-8 lead.
Charter dug deep, coming with two points at 18-16 on an ace from Stella Kenney, their lone ace of the afternoon, but the Pandas answered. They scored six of the next seven points beginning on a left-side smash from Jess Molen, followed by a winner off the tape from Meghan Peters and a sharp-angle kill by Grace Palaypay. Michelle Kozicki, who was a force in the middle all day, ended it by going straight down for a kill.
Kozicki kept it going early in the second. She began the set with a smash that hit two Force players before finding the floor. She added a block, one of four on the day, and smashed an overpass. After a hitting error on the Pandas, Kozicki changed up the pace, tapping a ball over the block near the end line to give Padua a 5-4 lead.
The Pandas extended the lead to five midway through the second, 18-13, when Peters went left to right with a cross, but the Force responded in front of a capacity crowd. The scored six of the next eight, beginning with a smash from Ava MacMurray and including one from Isabel Lugar and a few Pandas hitting errors. Four straight Padua points sent it to set point, and Molen left no doubt on a huge kill that gave the visitors a two-set advantage.
The final set was all Pandas. Kozicki went straight down to start it off, and the outcome was never in doubt. Their scoring included a kill by Jackie Barnett off a back set from Audrey Lyons, a Mackenzie Sobczyk swing that glanced off the head of a Charter player, and a pair of aces by Molen. A 9-2 run made the score 19-9. The match ended when a Force attempt flew into the net.
Kozicki led the Pandas with 11 kills, and she added four blocks. Molen and Sobczyk each had 10 kills, with Sobczyk adding four blocks. Padua (1-0) has its home opener on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against Wilmington Friends.
For the Force (2-1), Lugar had nine kills, while Corinna Bialecki added seven. Addison Miller had 23 digs. Charter is scheduled to play Thursday at 5:15 p.m. at First State Military Academy.