Jaguars finish the season 40-1 and could be ranked No. 1 in the nation
Lexie Hamrick called it heart-wrenching, the pain she felt watching her Mercy Academy volleyball team drop five-set matches to Assumption in the 2012 and 2013 state tournaments.
So when the Jaguars went to a fifth and decisive set against Notre Dame in Sunday’s state final at Valley High School, those previous defeats definitely were on her mind.
“There’s no way to describe the pain of what we felt last year,” she said. “We brought all those emotions and knew we had to step it up. We could not lose this game. We brought everything we had.”
Especially Hamrick, who posted four kills and 2½ blocks in the fifth set to lift Mercy to a suspenseful 23-25, 25-20, 24-26, 25-19, 15-8 victory and the seventh state championship in program history.
Hamrick, who has committed to North Carolina, finished with match-highs in kills (24) and blocks (5 ½) as the Jaguars finished a 40-1 season.
The only suspense left is whether Mercy also will claim a national title. The Jaguars currently are ranked No. 1 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com. In an email Sunday, PrepVolleyball.com publisher John Tawa wrote that only Redondo Union of Redondo Beach, Calif., still has a shot of knocking Mercy from its No. 1 spot.
“It’s out of our hands, but I think we’ve done everything to deserve it,” Mercy coach Todd Garvey said. “I don’t think anyone’s played the schedule we’ve played.”
Meredith Jewell added 17 kills and Nikki Koval 16 digs for Mercy. Koval said the Jaguars were not at their best Sunday.
“The fact that we were still able to pull out a win shows that we should be national champions,” she said.
Abby Thelen (22 kills) and Morgan Hentz (19 kills) paced Notre Dame (31-6), which is No. 12 in the PrepVolleyball.com national rankings.
First-year coach Buck McCoart said his team’s ball-handling fell apart in the final two sets.
“We always want to get balls to our middles because we feel like that’s a big strong point for us,” he said. “But if that first contact’s not where it needs to be, we can’t do it. I think that’s why you saw the kills fall off.”
After the teams split the first two sets, Mercy led 24-23 in the third after a Hamrick kill. But after a Mercy service error tied the score at 24, Sarah Draud had a kill and Hanna Knaley and Madison Salkowski teamed on a block to give the Pandas the set and a 2-1 lead.
Jewell said the team didn’t panic in the huddle before the fourth set.
“We said, ‘This isn’t happening again,’ ” Jewell said. “We were very determined, we focused in and we played our game.”
Notre Dame jumped to an 8-6 lead in the fourth, but Mercy responded with a 6-1 run for a 12-9 lead it never surrendered.
Shannon Saelinger’s ace gave the Pandas a 7-6 lead in the fifth set, but an Ashton Meckle kill, a Koval ace and a Hamrick kill gave the Jaguars a 9-7 edge.
A Mercy error made it 9-8, but the Jaguars scored the final six points as Hamrick had two kills and two blocks. She blocked Saelinger on the final point to spark a wild Mercy celebration.
“I knew I had to get this for my team and put a ball down for my team,” Hamrick said “That was the only thing I could do.”
Mercy’s only loss came in the regular-season finale, a five-set defeat against Sacred Heart. But the Jaguars were dominant in the postseason, sweeping eight straight matches by 3-0 scores before Sunday’s finale.
When it was over, Garvey was red-eyed with tears of joy.
“I told the girls in the locker room beforehand that they were probably going to get hit in the face a couple of times,” he said. “We just had to persevere, and we did that. We were resilient and just kept coming back at them and back at them and back at them and never wavered. I’m really proud of them for finishing this time.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
All-Tournament team: Lexie Hamrick, Meredith Jewell, Devon Rachel (Mercy); Abby Thelan, Alicia Von Handorf, Morgan Hentz (Notre Dame); Jessica Tapp, Jenna Trimpe (Scott); Mary Martin, Leah Edmond (Paul Dunbar); Kayla Groce (South Warren); April Buckner (Christian County); Molly Thompson (Owensboro Catholic); Jasmine Bennett (McCracken County).
MVP: Lexie Hamrick (Mercy).