WILMINGTON — Fifth sets have not been kind to Padua volleyball this season. Twice already, they have dropped heartbreakers in five.
Just getting to a fifth set Sept. 29 when Ursuline visited, however, was an accomplishment, and this time the Pandas finished the job. They fought back from a two-set deficit for a 3-2 win in front of a loud capacity crowd on Broom Street. Set scores were 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-20, and 15-9.
The teams brought the energy one would expect when rivals meet. The night was filled with long rallies, great defense, big hits and lots of drama. It all added up to a state tournament atmosphere.
Ursuline jumped out to an early lead in the first set, but a smash from Mary Mancini brought the Pandas back to within one at 9-8. A kill from Julia Terzaghi, however, got the Raiders back on track, and they maintained a small lead through the rest of the set. They built the advantage to six points on three occasions, the last time at 22-16 when Hannah Kelley stuffed an overpass, and Faith Kleitz ended the set with a tap that the Pandas could not return.
Padua went to work to open the second. Aanya Yatavelli contributed an ace as they went ahead, 6-1, prompting an Ursuline timeout. Mancini pushed the lead to six at 12-6 with an ace, but the Raiders fought back, starting with a kill from Ceci DeCaro and followed by a Sarah Villaverde ace. They trailed, 14-9, when Kleitz began an 8-0 run with a smash. DeCaro went straight down with a shot, Hayley Timmons served up an ace, and DeCaro scored again before the Pandas called time. Out of the break, Timmons delivered another ace to tie the score.
Timmons followed a Pandas unforced error with two more aces as the Raiders went ahead, 17-14. The Pandas closed to within a point on a hitting error, but Ursuline finished the set on a 7-1 run, with Grace Burns wrapping up the set with an ace.
The third set was close for a bit, with the teams tied for the final time at 9-9. The Pandas scored the next five points to swing the momentum of the set. Later in the third, the margin was five at 18-13 when Mancini delivered again with another monster kill. Libby Neiburg was blocked out of bounds, and two Raiders miscues put the Pandas on top by nine. The Raiders cut two points off the deficit before a Yatavelli tap was sandwiched by two errors, giving the Pandas the set and new life.
Undeterred, Ursuline came out in the fourth on fire. Timmons opened the set with another ace, and DeCaro contributed a kill and a pair of aces as the lead grew to 7-2. Mancini got Padua a point and the serve with a kill, and with Mandy Quinn behind the line, the Pandas began climbing back.
They went on a 7-0 run that included three aces from Quinn, building a 10-7 advantage. The Raiders stayed close, but Yatavelli’s strong hitting game helped Padua keep a small lead. Ursuline kept at it, and they finally tied things up at 18 on a Pandas hitting error.
Neiburg restored the lead with a kill, and Mancini added another ace. After a DeCaro kill, Yatavelli scored on a cross at a severe angle along the net, and Neiburg tossed in an ace. Quinn tied the match with an ace to end the fourth, generating a significant amount of noise from the sizeable Padua student section.
The Pandas threatened to run away with the fifth, with the gym growing louder on every point as they opened up with a 10-2 lead. Yatavelli broke a 1-1 tie with a tap after the Pandas threw up some impressive blocks. After the Raiders scored to make it 3-2 Pandas, Padua — with Yatavelli on serve — ran off the next seven points. There were two aces in that stretch, and also big hits from Kaitlyn Leberstien, Mancini and Hannah McGuigan.
After a timeout, the Raiders scored three straight to close the gap. But Mancini ended that run with a kill down the left side, and Leberstien added a block. The Raiders could get no closer than four points, and Yatavelli finished an impressive performance by finding a seam for the match-winning kill. The Pandas, nursing an uncharacteristic three-match losing streak, exhaled and celebrated.
Yatavelli led the Pandas with 14 kills and five aces, while Mancini added 12 kills and four aces. Quinn had four aces and 35 digs. Padua improved to 2-3 and hosts Wilmington Charter on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
Ursuline’s statistics were not available late Thursday night. The Raiders (2-5) visit Newark Charter on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m.
All photos by Mike Lang.