MILLTOWN – Saint Mark’s volleyball team pulled off a difficult feat on Nov. 7, defeating rival Ursuline for a third time in a single season. This latest win happened to come in the DIAA tournament semifinal round, and the Spartans’ sweep paved the way to a championship match appearance for the first time since 2011. Set scores were 25-13, 25-23 and 25-19.
The Spartans will meet another Catholic rival, Padua, for the title on Monday night at the Bob Carpenter Center. The match is set for 6:30. Padua defeated Friends, 3-2, in the other semifinal. The Pandas and Spartans split two regular-season meetings.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd that included a large student turnout, it was the third-seeded Raiders who jumped out early. Emma Popham paced Ursuline to a 5-1 lead with a pair of kills, but the good fortune wouldn’t last. After the Raiders took a 9-5 advantage, No. 2 Saint Mark’s started the comeback.
Mya Lewis got it started with a kill. Abby Thibodeau scored when her fantastic save dropped in on the Raiders’ side. Thibodeau crushed her next opportunity, cutting the Spartans’ deficit to one. They went on to take an 11-10 lead, only to have the Raiders’ Cassidy Markel level the score with a push kill. That was the last score for Ursuline for a while, however.
An unforced error on Ursuline gave Katie Sonchen the serve for the Spartans, and while she was there, Saint Mark’s went on an 11-point run to pull away. The entire cast of Spartans got in on the action, with kills from Julia Yurkovich, Savannah Seemans, Brooke Dow and Sonchen, with a Serena Pluta block providing the last point of the streak. Seemans accounted for the final two points of the set with two big swings of her right arm.
The middle set was much closer, more of what was expected. Again, the Raiders ran out early, with four consecutive kills – from Popham, Emma Raftovich, Kylie Nocket and Popham again – and a hitting error spotting them to a 5-1 advantage. Seemans and Nocket – both wearing No. 5 – put on a display for the next several minutes, each smashing balls left and right, to the delight of the crowd. Seemans tied the score at 9-9, and there were also ties at 10, 11 and 12.
Pluta’s kill to tie the score at 12 was the beginning of a seven-point Spartans streak, which included two more Seemans blasts. Three straight Raiders unforced errors a bit later put Saint Mark’s in front, 21-14, but Ursuline fought back. They were still behind, 23-21, when a Raiders service error sent it to set point. Popham spiked one for one save, and a Spartans violation saved one more. But the set ended on a service error.
A three-point streak early in the third, consisting of a Nocket kill, an ace from Maria Kennedy and a Markel knock off the block, tied the score at 5-5. The teams traded one-point leads for a stretch before the Spartans pulled away. Yurkovich crushed one to make it 11-9 Spartans, and Seemans threw up a block on the next point. After a service error, Seemans went cross-court for a point, and two errors extended the lead to 15-10.
Kyla Dow stuffed an overpass to give Saint Mark’s its biggest lead of the set at 20-13, with the Spartans’ student section growing louder by the point. The Raiders scored the next three to temporarily quiet the home fans, but Yurkovich ended that run with a blast. The final four Spartans points came on unforced errors, including the final one on a kill attempt that landed wide, setting off a big celebration.
Seemans had 16 kills, four blocks and 12 digs as she continued her all-state season. Yurkovich had seven kills, while Thibodeau added five. The Spartans improved to 17-1. Their lone loss came at Padua.
Final statistics for Ursuline were not available early Friday morning. The Raiders finished the season 12-6.