WILMINGTON — With seven seniors playing their final volleyball match at home, the second-ranked Padua Pandas brought their ‘A’ game in a 3-0 sweep of No. 1 Saint Mark’s. Set scores were 25-14, 25-22 and 25-21.
The Pandas opened the match by scoring the first six points, giving a glimpse of their game plan. A quality service game, blanket coverage of the defensive zone and stellar defense at the net would be on display all night.
But the Pandas knew a first-rate opponent like the Spartans would not go quietly. Saint Mark’s fought back from down 7-2 to tie the score at 8, including two Savannah Seemans kills sandwiched around consecutive aces from Mya Lewis. But the tie was short-lived. Padua picked up key diving digs from Jess Molen and Sarah Pritchard that preceded Spartans hitting errors. The teams went toe-to-toe on several points, but eventually the Pandas pulled away.
Michelle Kozicki, who did much of her damage on defense, found the deep left corner with a kill to make it 16-11. Grace Palaypay scored with a block to send the lead to seven points at 18-11. Kozicki stuffed a Spartans kill attempt to put her team on top, 20-12, then followed with another block on the next point. Kozicki added a little cross-court winner after that.
Molen smashed one, and a net violation sent it to set point. The Spartans were able to save twice, but a service error gave the Pandas the first set.
Palaypay began the second set by tucking a shot inside the right sideline, getting Padua off to a good start. Molen, who was outstanding all around, added a blast, and the lead grew to 3-0. Julia Yurkovich of Saint Mark’s got her team on the board with one of the best sequences of the night. An overpass from the Spartans off a serve was smoked by Kozicki, but Yurkovich was able to get an improbable dig that rebounded back to the Pandas. Yurkovich circled around to the left side of the court, went up and sent a smash off Padua’s block and into the stands.
Offensively, the Pandas got contributions from a multitude of players, including Jackie Barnett and Ireland Giaquinto, while Mackenzie Sobczyk joined the block party on defense. Molen added an ace as the lead grew to five. But the Spartans were not deterred. Kyla Dow sent a winner down the right sideline, and Serena Pluta threw up a block of her own
When Seemans was able to get one of her swings to go off the Pandas’ block and out of bounds, the Padua lead was cut to a single point at 20-19. Seemans knotted it at 21 with a slick cross-court winner, but the Pandas responded. A service error and a Molen ace made it 23-21. The Spartans scored one more time, and after a hitting error, Peyton Sullivan served up an ace to secure the set, sending the large Padua student section into a frenzy.
Facing elimination, the Spartans stayed close throughout the final set. They scored three straight to take a 4-3 lead early on, but Kozicki went straight down to tie it up. The teams traded points for a stretch until consecutive kills for Abby Thibodeau put the Spartans ahead, 10-6, drawing a timeout from Padua. The Saint Mark’s lead eventually grew to six points, the last time at 18-12, and it was their largest of the night. On that point, Seemans was blocked not once, but twice, but she made certain the third swing would not be dug.
The Pandas’ road back began with a service error. Palaypay added a kill, and another error cut the Saint Mark’s lead to three. Jill Timmons went cross court, prompting a timeout. After some spectacular digs, Sobczyk scored, and Padua tied it when a Spartans kill attempt went wide. Another Sobczyk blast put the Pandas on top.
Thibodeau stopped the Pandas’ streak at seven, tying the game at 19. But the hosts scored the next three, including a monstrous back-line kill from Molen. With the student section ready to erupt, the match ended when a Spartans kill attempt landed just wide of the sideline.
Molen had 10 kills, two aces and 13 digs for the Pandas. Kozicki and Sobczyk added seven kills each, while Kozicki had five blocks and Sobczyk three. Padua had 14 blocks overall. The Pandas (12-2) wrap up the regular season on Thursday at neighborhood rival Ursuline. The start time is 7:15 p.m.
For the Spartans, Seemans had 17 kills and 14 digs, and Thibodeau added five kills. Saint Mark’s suffered its first loss of the season and is 13-1 heading into their final regular-season battle, which is Saturday night at 7:15, also against Ursuline.