MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s had gone through the entire 2020 high school volleyball season without a loss, and the Spartans weren’t about to suffer one on the state’s biggest stage. They wrapped up a perfect 15-0 season with a state championship, defeating Padua on Dec. 12. The scores were 25-18, 25-17 and 27-25.
It was the Spartans’ 11th state championship and first since 2010. Saint Mark’s was in control from the get-go, but the third-seeded Pandas were not going down quietly. No. 1 Saint Mark’s won the first two sets comfortably, but they had to work overtime in the clincher.
The Pandas took an early two-point lead in the third at 5-3 after Colleen McClintock delivered an ace, and a few points later they went on a 3-0 run to open up their biggest lead of the night at 9-5. The Spartans responded with consecutive kills from Julia Yurkovich and Sarah Hessler, followed by a Kyla Dow ace.
Dow was blocked out of bounds later on to tie the set at 12, and Nicole Dimiris gave Saint Mark’s its first lead since 2-1 with a kill. After Padua retook the lead on a crosscourt winner from Meghan Peters and a McClintock ace, the Spartans went on a 5-0 run that included back-to-back aces from Sam Gerhart.
The lead fluctuated, but it was still at four at 22-18, and the Spartans’ supporters in the building was making as much noise as possible as they sensed a trophy presentation. But the Pandas would not give in. A 4-1 run that included two rare Spartans hitting errors tied the score at 23. Mackenzie Sobczyk, playing on an injured right leg for the past several weeks, gave Padua its first set point with a cross.
Mya Lewis tied the set, and she also sent it to match point No. 1 when a blast went off the fingers of the Pandas’ wall. It was tied once more on a hitting error, but the Spartans sealed the victory with a blast from Lewis for match point No. 2, followed by a Yurkovich bomb off the Padua block that fell out of bounds. The celebration was on.
Kyla Dow said the Spartans just needed to dig down for something extra when faced with adversity in the final set.
“I thought the team did an amazing job of battling back. We made a couple mistakes, but we definitely made up for it in the end,” she said.
Gerhart said last year was never far from the mind of the Spartans. Their 2019 season ended with a championship-match loss to the Pandas at the Bob Carpenter Center.
“Padua is such a good team. They’ve got good players. We’ve got good players, too,” she said. “But I think it’s just like the drive that we had really pushed us tonight. Especially because we let it go last year. It was really motivating us.”
The first set was a balanced affair for a while, with Sobczyk and Yurkovich trading attacks. Peters gave the Pandas their final lead of the first set with a block that made it 14-13, but a 4-0 run capped by a Gerhart ace sent the Spartans on their way. Padua closed to within two at 20-18, but Saint Mark’s finished with the final five points, including winners from Yurkovich and Brooke Dow, a block from Nicole Dimiris, and two unforced errors.
The Spartans ran out to an early 8-2 second-set advantage, with Yurkovich scoring three of those with big swings. Madison Wilhelm began a 4-0 run for the Pandas, going straight down to make it 12-8, and when Peyton Sullivan added a kill three points later, it was a 12-11 Spartans lead.
Padua hung around until the Spartans scored four straight to take a 22-16 lead late in the second. After Peters ended that run, the set ended with another Yurkovich blast, followed by consecutive stuffs from Hessler.
Spartans coach Nancy Griskowitz was thrilled for her players. “This team never gave up. This team battled every game, every match. They’ve got awesome team chemistry. They’re so talented. It’s an incredible team, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Yurkovich had 17 kills and 13 digs for the Spartans, while Lewis had 12 kills, seven digs and 18 assists. Gerhart and Brooke Dow also had 13 digs. Dimiris and Sarah Hessler each scored three times on blocks.
Padua’s final statistics were not available. The Pandas finished with a record of 12-3.
All photos by Mike Lang.