WILMINGTON — Each of the three sets in Padua’s volleyball match at Conrad on Oct. 24 played out in similar fashion. The Pandas and Red Wolves stayed close early on, but Padua staged runs in each set that were too much to overcome, and the defending champs won in a sweep. The set scores were 25-11, 25-18 and 25-20.
The front lines of both teams stood out early on. Stefanie Kulesza helped keep Conrad close, and she was matched kill for kill by Madison Wilhelm. Once Kulesza rotated to the back line, the Pandas took over.
A Kulesza smash pulled the Red Wolves to within a point at 5-4, but Wilhelm spearheaded a 9-2 run. The senior had four kills during that run, the last łwo of which came in succession and were the hardest of the lot. Padua clinched the set by scoring six of the final seven points, starting with a smash by Mackenzie Sobczyk. Wilhelm ended the set with a block.
The teams played evenly into the middle of set number two, with six ties until the last one at 8-8. The Red Wolves held an 8-7 lead before Peyton Sullivan leveled the score with a smash down the middle that landed just inside the back line. That was part of a seven-point run that gave the Pandas a 14-8 lead, one they would not relinquish. Sobczyk was on serve during this stretch, and she delivered a pair of aces and another service winner.
The final set was the closest as far as the score is concerned. The Red Wolves built up a four-point advantage due to some nice play by front-liners such as Alexis Rutkowski combined with uncharacteristic miscues by the Pandas. The score was 12-10 Red Wolves when the comeback started in earnest.
Wilhelm punished a ball down the left sideline. An unforced error pulled Padua a step closer, and Sobczyk tied the score at 12 after sizing up an overpass and murdering it straight down. With the score knotted at 13, the Pandas took the lead for good on a hitting error by Conrad. The Pandas would score six of the next seven.
Wilhelm ended the match when she went down the middle with the game’s final kill.
Wilhelm and Sobczyk each registred 16 kills. Wilhelm also had five of the team’s 13 blocks. Sobczyk had five aces, while Audrey Lyons added four. Padua improved to 2-0 and hosts Saint Mark’s on Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
For the Red Wolves, Kulesza led the way with 16 kills. Conrad (0-2) travels to MOT Charter on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.
All photos by Mike Lang.