WILMINGTON — Ursuline used a different formula in each set to overcome Sussex Central in the first round of the DIAA state volleyball tournament on Dec. 2 in Wilmington. The 14th-seeded Raiders went on an early run in the first set, a late run in the second, then gradually pulled away in the third.
The set scores were 25-17, 25-17, and 25-16.
Samiah Sudler-Brooks earned the start for the Raiders, and her kills bookended an early four-point run to give the hosts a 4-1 lead. The Golden Knights, the No. 19 seed, pulled to within a point at 8-7 before the Raiders regained the serve in what would be the turning point of set one.
They scored nine straight, including three kills by the lefty, Emma Raftovich, and a few aces from Heyli Velasquez. The lead grew as high as 11 points, but the Golden Knights’ Brenya Reid almost singlehandedly tried to bring her team back into it. The junior hitter was hitting lasers all night, from the front and back lines, and she helped cut the Ursuline lead to five. Raiders front-liners Avery Brown and Hannah Kelley went back-to-back on kills to end the first.
Reid opened the second with a bomb down the middle, and when Makenna Messina served up an ace, Central was on top, 4-0. The Golden Knights held on to the lead for a while until Faith Kleitz scored on a soft bump over the net, and the score was tied for the last time at 16.
Velasquez hit a free ball that found the floor to make it 16-15, and Brown crushed the next point for the Raiders. After an Ursuline service error, the Raiders scored the next five points, the last two coming on Kleitz kills. Reid ended that run with another well-struck ball, but Ursuline scored the final three points to go up, 2-0.
The Golden Knights had four single-digit leads in the early going in the third, the final one courtesy of an ace from Ja’Marah Hopkins. Kleitz tied it with a kill off the end line, part of an outstanding third set and match for the sophomore. Again, it was Reid primarily who kept Sussex Central within striking distance, but Ursuline had just too much firepower.
An ace delivered by Raftovich sent the Raiders to their biggest lead of the set, 19-11, and the home team finished the night by scoring the final four points. That mini-run consisted of a smash by Kleitz, a Raftovich kill, a hitting error, and to end it, another kill down the middle for Raftovich.
Kleitz was solid for the Raiders, leading the way with 14 kills, while Brown added nine. Velasquez had 18 kills. Ursuline improved to 6-7 and will visit the third seed, Padua, on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Reid finished with 19 kills and 10 digs, both of which led the Golden Knights. Sussex Central ended the season 7-6.
All photos by Mike Lang.