MILLTOWN — Catholic rivals Ursuline and Saint Mark’s have met plenty of times in the DIAA volleyball tournament over the years, providing their share of entertaining matches. Their second-round matchup on Nov. 4 was no different, as the Spartans withstood everything the Raiders had before prevailing, 3-1.
Set scores were 26-24, 25-19, 22-25, and 25-19.
The Spartans advance to the quarterfinal round, where they will meet Newark Charter on Nov. 8 at the St. E Center. The Spartans and Patriots battled earlier this season, with Saint Mark’s taking the 3-1 victory.
The Raiders entered the match with a 7-9 record and the 19th seed, but the Spartans could not have been surprised by the way Ursuline showed up. The Raiders jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first behind the service game of Ava Panunto and some clutch offense from Juliette Cummings.
A Cummings block and a kill from Hannah Kelley staked Ursuline to a 16-10 lead before the Spartans made their move. They scored four straight, concluding with a tip kill from Julia Yurkovich, prompting a Raiders timeout. They were finally able to take the lead at 18-17 when Lauren Mehelas scored on an attack, and the advantage reached 22-18.
Faith Kleitz had a kill and a block as the Raiders fought back to tie it at 23, and a violation on Saint Mark’s gave Ursuline a set point. Ava Borcky took over after that, scoring on a kill, a tipped ball and another tip to lift the Spartans.
After Grace Burns opened the second set with an ace for the Raiders, Saint Mark’s went to work. Yurkovich had two kills in a 5-0 run, and the lead remained in the three- to five-point range most of the set. Yurkovich had a big set for the Spartans, scoring on a variety of hits, from dinks to big bombs. Borcky wrapped it up with an ace.
A 10-2 run that began early in the third staked Saint Mark’s to a 15-7 lead, with Borcky stepping up. During that stretch, the junior collected, unofficially, four kills and an ace, but Panunto and the Raiders responded. Cece DeCaro began the comeback with a kill, and Panunto dropped a pair of aces during a 4-0 run.
Still, the Spartans held an 18-13 lead after another Yurkovich kill. The Raiders, however, scored 12 of the final 16 points to stun the home crowd, which included a large student section. Libero Julianna The score was knotted at 22, but a kill and two Spartans errors lifted the Raiders to the win.
The Spartans again started strong in the fourth. A long rally ended by a Yurkovich tap started the set, and consecutive kills a few minutes later by the senior made it 7-2. Borcky contributed an ace to stake the Spartans to another 15-7 lead, and the Raiders scored the next three, bringing back memories of the third set.
Yurkovich and Kelley put on quite a show as the set moved on, trading blasts and blocks. Trailing by six, the Raiders made a move. DeCaro bombed one off the Saprtans’ wall, and Kelley scored on a smash from the back line. After a Saint Mark’s error, DeCaro had an attack blocked out of bounds to cut the Spartans’ advantage to 20-17.
Borcky had two straight kills, however, as Saint Mark’s restored the six-point lead. The match ended when a Raiders attack went into the net.
Borcky had 18 kills and three aces for the Spartans, while Yurkovich had 16 kills and 16 digs. Saint Mark’s improved to 16-1. Their match against Newark Charter on Tuesday is part of a doubleheader with the start time to be determined.
For Ursuline, Kelley finished with 17 kills and 13 digs. Kleitz added seven kills, and Panunto had four aces. The Raiders had a total of 15 aces. They finished the season 7-10.
All photos by Mike Lang.