The Catholic Crusaders picked up their 15th win of the season on Monday night, defeating the Milton Panthers in four sets, 18-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-20.
The Crusaders (15-4, 4-0 District 1-4A) appeared to be dealing with some weekend rust in the first set. Catholic’s biggest lead was two points — in the opening seconds — that quickly spiraled into a seven-point deficit as Milton led 14-6 halfway through the set.
“We don’t play well on Mondays. That’s it,” Catholic head coach Giulio Simonelli said. “I call it the Monday evening syndrome. We practice very hard all week, and then all of a sudden, they become lethargic. They lose the mental edge.”
That edge finally started to return in the second and third sets. The Crusaders nearly squandered their lead late in the second set, giving up three points in the final moments as Milton’s Jayci Floyd kept the Panthers alive with two kills.
In the third set, Catholic returned to form, jumping out to a commanding lead early behind strong games from Sina Faulk (12 kills) and Mirella Gatterdam (12 kills).
With Catholic leading 16-10, sophomore Kiley Brady then drove in the dagger, finishing off Milton with 6 kills in an 11-play sequence, including the set-winning point.
“We changed the rotation. We wanted Kylie to have more opportunities,” Simonelli said. “We started passing better so we started running Kylie, and we noticed that they didn’t have an answer so we tried to run her as much as possible.”
Brady attributes her success to her team’s play.
“I was just glad that our team was working together after the slow start,” Brady said. “It’s not just the kills, it’s the sets and in order to get the good set you have to have a good pass and our passing was a lot stronger in the third set.”
During the final set, neither team could pull away more than 2 points during the first 12 plays. The Crusaders eventually gained the lead, 18-10, but again nearly squandered it away.
“Milton came ready to play,” Simonelli said. “They have a couple of very good players. They play well as a team. They’re well coached. It was a good challenge for us.”
The Panthers managed to keep the games close and were led by the strong arm of Mikeala Worley, who produced seven kills and three aces.
Milton now gets ready to play at Pine Forest on Wednesday, while Catholic prepares to host Walton in a District 1-4A match tonight.
“At this point in the season, we need to make sure our team system works,” Simonelli said. “We’re still working on getting better and playing other systems, serving — which didn’t work tonight at all — and passing.”
CATHOLIC def. MILTON
18-25, 25-21, 25-11, 25-20
Catholic (15-4, 4-0 in District 1-4A): Emily Emmons 2 aces, 11 digs, 21 kills; Cara McDaniel ace, 9 digs, kill; Madison Yarborough 3 digs; Mallory Herrmann ace, 5 digs; Sina Faulk 2 blocks, 11 digs, 12 kills; Mirealla Gatterdam 4 blocks, 4 digs, 12 kills; Kiley Brady 5 blocks, 9 kills; Nicole Wilson 4 ace, 2 blocks, 4 digs, 2 kills; Kelly Donahue block, 2 kills; Colleen MacDonald kill.
Milton (5-9): Mikaela Worley 3 aces, 7 kills, assist, 10 digs; Tianna Novacic 2 blocks; Sydnee Mitchell 3 aces, 2 kills, 5 digs; Jayci Floyd ace, 4 kills, 2 digs; Keren Haygood ace, 13 digs; Hannah Wingate ace, kill, 14 assists, 6 digs; Gracey McDonald kill, 2 digs; Mariah Ard dig; Hannah Wakeman 2 assists, 3 digs; Arielle Slacke 2 kills, 4 digs.
Next: Catholic plays again tonight when it hosts Walton in a District 1-4A match. Milton plays Wed. at Pine Forest.