MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s advanced to the DIAA volleyball tournament semifinals with a 3-0 sweep of the Charter School of Wilmington on Dec. 8, but the match was tighter than the score would indicate. The Spartans won 25-21, 25-15, and 25-16.
Saint Mark’s looked every bit the top seed as the match began, sprinting out to a 15-5 lead over the Force as the match began. Several Spartans played a part in that opening blits, including Nicole Dimiris with back-t0-back blocks, Mya Lewis and Sarah Hessler with a block and a kill each, and Julia Yurkovich with three big blasts, incliudng one that knocked a defender off-balance. But the 24th-seeded Force were undaunted.
Led by their big three hitters — Ava MacMurray, Christy Marcin and Anjali Vishwanathan — Charter chipped away. Marcin sent one down the middle, and a Spartans hitting error closed the gap to 19-14 later in the set. The Spartans built the cushion back to eight points, but a 5-1 run, culminating with a tip by Vishwanathan, cut that lead to 23-19. Brooke Dow sent it to set point with a deep kill, and after the Force saved twice, Dimiris went down the middle for the win.
The Spartans started the second set in much the same manner as the first, taking a 9-2 lead on an ace from Sam Gerhart that prompted a Charter timeout. The Force played the hosts evenly after that break, but they could never get closer than five, which they did at 16-11 after consecutive blocks from MacMurray and Vishwanathan and again at 19-14 on another Vishwanathan rejection.
After that point, Mya Lewis began a four-point run for Saint Mark’s, a streak that also included an ace off the tape by Gerhart. Yurkovich brought the set to an end with a cross-court bomb.
The teams traded points early in the third, with the Force holding their final lead at 7-6. A service error tied the score and began a run of six straight for the Spartans, which included two Yurkovich aces. Marcin had a spectacular third, piling up the kills to help keep her team within striking distance.
MacMurray brought the Force to within five at 17-12 with a swing from the back line, but the Spartans opened it up with the next three. A hitting error brought about match point, and after Marcin scored one more with a blast, Lewis found open space in the middle of the floor to send the Spartans to the semifinals.
Yurkovich led the way with 15 kills and 11 digs, along with a pair of aces. Brooke Dow had seven kills. Hessler had three blocks. The Spartans, who defeated Wilmington Charter during the regular season, improved to 13-0. The face the 12th seed, Delaware Military Academy, on Thursday at Saint Mark’s at 5 p.m. The Spartans opened their season Oct. 22 with a four-set win over the Seahawks.
Charter’s statistics were not available late Tuesday. The Force, who defeated No. 9 Dover and No. 8 Caesar Rodney to reach the quarterfinal round, finished the season at 7-8.
On the other side of the bracket, the third seed, Padua, survived a five-set battle with No. 6 Indian River in Wilmington. The Pandas took the first two sets against the visitors from Sussex County, but IR responded by taking the next two. The Indians led, 11-9, in the final set, but Padua scored four of the final five points to advance.
The defending state champs will play the 10th seed, Wilmington Friends, in the second semifinal on Thursday at Saint Mark’s. Padua defeated the Quakers, 3-1, on the final day of the regular season.
All photos by Mike Lang.