When the pass went up with the Pandas on their fourth match point in Monday’s DIAA Girls Volleyball State Tournament championship match, senior Ally Jennings knew the time had come.
With an emphatic swing of her right arm, Jennings sent the ball to the floor and sealed the Pandas’ second consecutive state tournament title with a 3-0 victory over Tower Hill at the Bob Carpenter Center.
“It was great,” Jennings said of her 16th kill. “I just felt going up there that it was time to end the game, and that’s what happened.”
The top-seeded Pandas wrapped up an undefeated 2013 season, sealing their 19th win with a 28-26, 25-11, 25-23 victory over No. 11 Tower Hill.
After rallying from a five-point deficit in the final game, Padua built a 24-20 lead behind the serving of Haley Baker to bring the Pandas to the brink of the championship.
But the Hillers (15-4) refused to back down, earning a sideout and three points off Isabel Sobieski’s serves to close to 24-23 before Jennings’ kill sealed the championship.
The key was staying in control, said Padua coach Lauren DiSabatino.
“We learn lessons every single day, and we have to learn that it’s not just going to happen because it’s going to happen,” DiSabatino said. “You’re going to have to work hard for every point. They stayed in there, and they battled for every point.”
The key to winning the battle was working as a team, said Padua’s Jennifer Borio.
“It’s been a long road to get here,” Borio said. “It’s been an exciting road, but we knew we had the chance to repeat tonight if we stayed together.”
For Tower Hill, the loss was a bittersweet ending to a magical season, said coach Michael Sachs.
“As surprising as it was to everyone [to make the final], in no way were they happy just playing in the final,” Sachs said. “They really wanted to win.”
For Tower Hill senior Elizabeth Wuerstle, the match was a chance for Tower Hill to prove itself as a contender.
“We just wanted to go out there and play our game, to play as well as we could and prove to the world that we’re meant to be here and this is where we belong,” Wuerstle said. “I think we did that.”
The Hillers didn’t make it easy on the defending champions, seizing an early lead in the first game and forcing the Pandas to extra points. No more than two points separated the teams in the entire game before a kill by Jennings ended it at 28-26.
The Pandas came out strong in the second game and seemed ready to run away with the championship behind the serving of Ashley Muschiatti and attacks by Jennings.
“Before every game, our coach sits us down in the locker room and says ‘Stay calm, say a prayer and play on,’ and that’s exactly what we did,” Muschiatti said. “We stayed calm even when we were down. We just said a prayer and had faith in each other.”
But Tower Hill was not cowed by the two-game deficit, taking an early lead in the third before the Pandas began to rally.
“The third set, having two under your belt and knowing that the third one could technically give you the state championship, there’s going to be some jitters,” DiSabatino said. “Really the state tournament is all about a mental game. You just have to keep yourself in control.”
With two games in hand, the Pandas were not giving up on their dreams of repeating, Borio said.
“I think [winning] the first two really kept us focused,” she said. “We knew we were so close to winning a championship.”
In the third-place match, Abbie Mirabella had 18 kills as No. 4 St. Mark’s rallied from a one-game deficit to defeat No. 10 Concord 2-1.St. Mark’s 2, Concord 1:
St. Mark’s which took Padua to five games in the semifinal match on Thursday, dropped the first game 23-25 before coming back to win the second game 25-11 and outlasting the Raiders 16-14 in the final game. Peyton Reno added seven kills and nine digs for the Spartans (15-4).
Emily Panchak had 11 kills, four blocks and 16 digs for Concord (14-5).