Ohiohsvb.com News About Ohio High School Volleyball
Toledo St. Ursula subdues stubborn Toledo Central Catholic a second time for trip to regional
By Jim Jicha
Undefeated defending Division I state champion Toledo St. Ursula advanced to their tenth regional in eleven years with a hard fought 25-21, 25-22, 25-23 decision over Three Rivers Athletic Conference rival Toledo Central Catholic.
Last Saturday’s Perrysburg District final was not that much different than the Arrows' 25-18, 23-25, 13-25, 25-17, 15-9 win over Central in early September. “A couple of these games could have gone the other way” St. Ursula Coach John Buck noted afterward. “They (Central) had fight in them all the way to the end”.
The Irish led halfway into game one and they were on top 20-18 in game three. In the second set they erased most of a 23-14 St. Ursula lead with a seven-point run.
Central scored first on a blast by outside hitter Makahla Jacobs. Arrows 6’2” junior outside Maddie Burnham countered with a slam to right corner, but Central surged ahead 4-1 as Jacobs nailed an ace.
Burnham countered with a kill and helped 6’0” University of New Hampshire bound middle Cassidy Croci with a tying block. The Irish kept a step ahead on point trading to six and edged out 12-10 on misfires from the Arrows and two slams by 6’1” senior outside Abby Wietrzykowski.
At this juncture, however, 6’0” junior right side Katie McKernan drilled a cross-court smash and St. Ursula finally gained momentum, running off five more points as 5’11” setter Katie Felix dished up an ace and Burnham spiked two more kills.
Irish 6’0” senior outside Jennifer Kowalski ended the run, and she and Jacobs served aces as Central crept within 18-17. The Arrows, however, won three hotly contested volleys on kills by senior outside Erin Williams and McKernan in a four-point spurt to a 23-18 margin.
Senior outside Olivia Pina stopped the run with a quick set blast and Central closed to 23-21 on two Arrows’ miscues. St. Ursula nipped the rally in the bud, however, when Madison Strall back set McKernan for a spike that Central blocked over but out. McKernan then teamed with freshman outside Lauran Graves on a game-ending block kill.
St. Ursula seemed to have game securely tucked away after a 15-3 run. But in volleyball the game is never over until it really is over, and Arrows fans were treated to a pre-Halloween scare.
Central jumped out 3-1 on kills by senior outside Tiffani Hobbs and Kowalksi. But the tide turned on the following intense volley, when Strall made a diving dig at the net and Burnham scored in the middle.
Croci ended another long volley with a kill and freshman defensive specialist Maurissa Leonard dished up an ace, pacing a four-point run. After a kill by Kowalski, the Arrows got three more, helped by a backcourt save from Williams and a quick set blast by Croci.
Pina intervened with a kill, but the Irish served long and Strall dished up an ace. Then Croci really caught fire. Alternating tips with spikes, and hitting into different zones, she scored four more kills as St. Ursula expanded their lead from 9-5 to 16-6. And when Central closed to 18-12, Strall and Burnham blocked and spiked the margin back to ten at 22-12.
The score was 23-14 when Kowalski and Wietrzykowski hit back-to-back cross-court kills from the left. And with that, momentum abruptly shifted. The Arrows yielded a hitting error, and Wietrzykowski negated a diving save at the net by St. Ursula defensive specialist Madison Haupricht with another slam.
A time out notwithstanding, Kowalski seared an ace into St. Ursula’s right corner and the Arrows exceeded the three-dig quota fielding a blast from Pina. Wietrzykowski followed with a termination into right corner.
With their lead vaporizing to 23-21, Coach Buck called another timeout. This had the desired effect as Croci hammered a quick set into Central’s back court. Arrows fans squirmed when the ensuing serve slammed into the net, but Croci dispatched their worries, and the game, with a second quick set slam into back middle.
Game three turned into a seesaw frenzy to the end with five lead changes and a dozen ties.
St. Ursula opened with a long serve, Jacobs blocked Burnham and Central led 2-0. After point trading to 5-3, St. Ursula scored three for their first lead. Pina erased that with two kills - Kowalski kept a St. Ursula spike from scoring - and the Irish remained a step ahead through three ties. Another ace by Jacobs put them in front 12-10, but St. Ursula retied on hitting errors.
The Arrows edged in front on a tip by Croci that ended an extremely contested volley which drew applause from both sides. The lead proved ephemeral, however, as Kowalski answered with a tip, Irish junior middle Mikenzie Tschantz blocked Croci, Pina spiked another point and sophomore setter Michelle Murnen dumped into a hole. Central’s 16-13 lead would be the biggest by either team.
Following a net serve Strall served two aces to tie it for the eighth time, but Wietrzykowski kept the Irish apace with a kill. A block by junior middle Jen Vilet gave Central a 20-18 edge.
St. Ursula freshman outside hitter Lauran Graves ended another contested volley with a well placed hit to right middle and, after Central hit into the net, Burnham blasted a 21-20 go-ahead spike off the block. Kowalski terminated the next volley but St. Ursula was now in charge and Burnham kept it that way with another spike through blocker.
The Arrows' next attempt sailed long, and Central would have taken a 23-22 lead had Strall not reached a sinking jump serve from Jacobs. She instead turned it into a nice pass and 5’11” senior Katie Felix set Burnham for a cross-court slam.
The Arrows hit long again, resulting in another tie at 23, but Central lost a chance at a game point lead with a net violation as a free ball came their way. A lift on the next volley ended the match.
Despite the intense play and the bitter disappointment for Central Catholic at the end, players from the two teams warmly embraced each other afterward. “We’re good friends…we love those guys’ Coach Buck explained, noting many players are teammates on JO teams. “It’s two class teams going at each other during the match, but we hug each other once it’s over”.
Buck thought the Arrows could have been a bit sharper (pun intended) but said “As a team they played well enough to win”. He explained “We passed well in game two, with Cassidy (Croci) hitting into zones, but when Central picked it up we didn’t control the ball well”.
Player Note: Cassidy Croci holds the top two kill efficiency marks at St. Ursula, having been in the mid .400 range as a sophomore and junior, and she’s right up there again this year.
Stats: St. Ursula: Kills: Croci 15, Burnham 12; Assists: Strall 16; Digs: Strall 13, Williams 9, Haupricht 8; Blocks: Croci 5; Aces: Strall 3