For two sets, the matchup that yielded a five-set slugfest two weeks ago appeared to be a blowout.
St. Mark’s looked every bit of their undefeated, top-ranked pedigree. Delaware commit Lauren Talley was a terror at the net, racking up kills like they were Christmas presents. Second-ranked Padua had no answer.
Then the Pandas woke up.
Grueling, scintillating and tense third and fourth sets saw a combined 14 set points and six match points ended with a 33-31 St. Mark’s win in the fourth set, clinching the match for the Spartans and keeping them undefeated.
St. Mark’s (13-0) took the first two sets 25-13 and 25-18, respectively, before gutting through a lost 28-30 third set and the fourth-set tug-of-war for the win.
It was the second straight tough win against second-ranked Padua (12-2) this season for the Spartans and likely sets them up for the top seed in the state tournament.
“I’m just an emotional mess right now,” a relieved St. Mark’s coach Nancy Griskowitz said. “I don’t know what to say. My team played with a lot of heart.”
Talley, who rang up 32 kills in the match, couldn’t find her rhythm in the third, as Padua dug strike after strike. She was all smiles afterward.
“Roller coaster is an understatement,” Talley said. “Those games are the hardest games of the year so far.”
Talley added 12 digs and one ace to her bevy of kills. Abbe Mirabella added 22 kills, Kylie Truitt had 27 digs and Claudia Seemans dished out 56 assists to lead the Spartans statistically.
“It’s just how it goes,” Talley said of her third-set struggles. “You’re not supposed to let it get to you. Sometimes it does, but you have to blow it off.”
For Padua, coach Lauren DiSabatino said that both matches against St. Mark’s drew her team’s best performances this season. Both matches are also the Pandas’ only losses.
“They’re the most powerful team we’ve played in our whole schedule,” DiSabatino said. “It’s a battle.”
Lauren Summa led the Pandas with 33 digs, most of those coming against Talley and Mirabella. Jennifer Borio’s 19 kills led Padua, with Sarah Landry (15 kills) and Allyson Jennings (14 kills) close behind. Haley Baker racked up the most assists with 31.
“Sometimes teams come in flat,” DiSabatino said. “Volleyball is all about emotions, and we were flat the first two games. Second two games, I could ask nothing more of my team.”
It wasn’t enough. It was Talley, Mirabella and company who faltered on six match points over two sets before putting the match away nearly two and half hours after it started.
“Volleyball is a big mental game.” Griskowitz said. “My team showed me what they have tonight.”