MILLTOWN — Padua will have the opportunity to defend its volleyball state championship, but the Pandas needed all five sets to knock off Wilmington Friends on Dec. 10 in the DIAA tournament semifinal round at Saint Mark’s High School. The very close set scores were 25-20, 22-25, 25-21, 23-25, and 15-7.
It marked the second straight round that required five sets for the third-seeded Pandas. Indian River took them to the brink in the quarterfinals before falling narrowly in the fifth.
Friends came in as the 10th seed, but the Quakers were very much the equal of the Pandas. The first four sets were extremely close, with Padua’s biggest lead coming in the first set at six points, while the Quakers taking a pair of six-point leads in the fourth.
Padua’s primary hitter, McKenzie Sobczyk, has been slowed by a leg injury, but her teammates continued to pick her up. Peyton Sullivan and Meghan Peters had a big night on the offensive and defensive ends, while Madison Wilhelm was a presence in the middle as usual.
On the back line, Mandy Quinn and libero Colleen McClintock were on their games. McClintock kept many points alive with several one-armed digs; she finished with an incredible 62 digs over the five sets.
They were matched by the Quakers all night. Although their statistics were not available early Friday, numbers are not necessary to know that the offense was led by Kayla Farley, Reena Robinson and Abigail Carian. Camille DeBeary was solid in her middle blocking role, and the Quakers’ libero, Jocelyn Nathan, spent what seemed like half the match sprawled out on the floor making a save.
Farley sent the match to the fifth set with a kill to end the fourth, but Peters said the Pandas were not fazed.
“We really needed to work together,” she said. “It was like, ‘We can pull through that again, and we’ve done it before,’ and that’s just how we play our game.”
After four nip-and-tuck sets, the trip to the finals came down to a shortened fifth. Unlike in the first four sets, the Pandas jumped to a lead in the fifth. Carian put Friends on top with a kill to the end line, but Padua quickly equalized on an unforced error. Peters followed with a smash, and Sobczyk added a block. After a hitting error on the Quakers, they called a timeout.
Sullivan added to the Pandas’ lead with an ace out of the timeout, but Friends cut the lead to two as Padua committed an unforced error, and Robinson was blocked out of bounds. But a 6-1 stretch for the Pandas extended the lead to seven. Three of those points came on huge kills, the first from Wilhelm, the other two courtesy of Peters. Two hitting errors brought the evening to an end.
Sullivan and Peters each had 18 kills to lead the Pandas. Sullivan also had 24 digs. Sobczyk gutted her way to six kills and 18 digs. Wilhelm had three of the team’s nine blocks. Padua is now 12-2 and will battle Saint Mark’s on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Saint Mark’s. Peters said the team’s approach will not change at this point of the season.
“We just show up and work hard like we always do, and we get ready to play our game,” she said.
For the second straight season, the Quakers had their season end in the semifinal against Padua in five sets. The Quakers finished with a 13-3 record.
All photos courtesy of Nick Halliday.