Players on the Mount Notre Dame volleyball team know well what they will be up against when they take the floor against Toledo St. Ursula in a Division I state semifinal Friday at 6 p.m. at Wright State University.
The Arrows are unbeaten (28-0) and have been ranked No. 1 in the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches’ Association state poll all season. One of the Cougars’ (25-2) two losses this season was at Toledo St. Ursula on Aug. 30 — the third of three matches MND played that day.
“I guess you could call us the underdogs since they beat us,” MND senior outside hitter Sydney Mukes said. “It’s going to be a fun game and we’re definitely going to get hyped.”
Mount Notre Dame was in a similar situation last season and handed the Arrows their first and only loss of 2013 in the state final.
“We just have to focus on, not so much what Toledo St. Ursula will do, but what we can do to get better,” MND senior setter Jessica Towle said. “Focus on us this week and then when we get there, focus on them.”
The Arrows boast two first-team all-state selections in sophomore libero Jayme Cox and senior middle hitter Lauran Graves. Senior right side hitter Morgan Finn was a second-team selection and senior Maurissa Leonard was an honorable mention pick. Toledo St. Ursula coach John Buck was named the Division I coach of the year in Ohio.
It’s a tough draw for any team.
“I saw them myself two or three weeks ago,” Mount Notre Dame coach Joe Burke said. “They’re obviously a very well coached team and a very good team. They return a lot of experience. They’ve got an experienced setter. They have two very good middles. They’ve got very good outsides and their defense is top-notch. So we will certainly have our hands full with that team.”
But the defending state champs are no pushovers with two first-team all-state selections in junior middle blocker Dani Szczepanski and senior libero Margo Wolfe. Towle was a second-team selection and Mukes was on the third team.
Mount Notre Dame is ranked No. 2 in the state poll and just completed a three-match season sweep of No. 3 Ursuline Academy in the regional final Nov. 1. Each of those three wins came in straight sets.
“That may be one of the better MND teams that I’ve seen, just because they’re so well rounded,” Ursuline coach Jeni Case said. “They usually have one or two to go to. But their libero is strong. Their setter is strong. Their outside, their middle. They’re really balanced, so I think they have an awesome team.”
Ursuline’s only losses this season were to MND and Toledo St. Ursula.
“Honestly, they’re the only team that made us look as bad as we did when we played them during the season,” Case said of MND. “We played them twice and we did not play well. We have four losses this year and three of them are to them.”
A state title repeat for Mount Notre Dame would tie Cincinnati St. Ursula and Newark Catholic for the record for most state titles with eight. League rival Seton has six titles, Ursuline has five and Mercy has four. The Arrows were state champions in 2004 and 2010.
The state final will be Saturday at 5 p.m. at Wright State against the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Columbus St. Francis DeSales (20-3) and Massillon Jackson (26-2).
“It’s a great opportunity,” Burke said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”