FAIRBORN – As sure as the autumn hue of the leaves, there are Cougars in Fairborn in November.
At least for the last 10 years.
Mount Notre Dame High School, in their 13th Division I tournament, moved to the state final with a win over Toledo St. Ursula, 25-22, 25-12, 16-25, 17-25, 15-13 on Friday the 13th.
Triskaidekaphobia never entered the equation. After splitting two regular season matches, MND prevailed in the proverbial rubber game to seek a third straight Division I championship.
“I’m really proud of how we came out and fought in the fifth (game) even though things weren’t going well,” MND coach Joe Burke said. “That was a great volleyball match. My insides were going crazy, but I told these girls before the match, I trust them.”
Seniors Sydney Mukes and Dani Szczepanski had 28 and 18 kills, respectively. Seniors Erin McCarthy and Sabrina Wolf combined for 28 digs and senior Cara Smith had 45 assists.
None of them were ready to end their prep careers
The first game of the afternoon went back and forth with the Cougars trailing a few times. However, MND delivered a patented Girls Greater Catholic League “kick” and won by three with senior Mukes delivering five kills and four digs.
The second game was a good ol’ fashioned trip to the woodshed with MND dominating 25-12 after getting out to an 8-0 lead.
Toledo St. Ursula averted the sweep in the third game with a somewhat predictable correction, 25-16. The Arrows never trailed, even though Burke had warned his squad of a third game let down as recently as the regional final against Ursuline.
“We were up 2-0 on Ursuline and came out and didn’t play our best volleyball,” Burke said. “I talked about it and we were aware that Toledo St. Ursula wasn’t going to stop.”
Despite Burke’s warning, the fourth stanza started similar to the third with the Arrows commanding an early lead. The Cougars would pull within one, but the Toledo girls kept up the tenacity and reversed the momentum with a 25-17 victory, forcing the fifth and final set.
MND took the early 3-1 lead behind some kills by Mukes, but the Arrows weren’t yet ready for the return trip to Tony Packo’s as they took a 7-3 advantage. They would hold the lead until MND tied it at 9. Then, a Dani Szczepanski downward paddle of the ball put the Cougars in front 10-9.
They wouldn’t trail from there and won 15-13 on yet another kill by Mukes. Her 28 kills set a new state record in the rally scoring era.
“Cara (Smith) had great sets the entire match,” Mukes said. “I have complete trust in my teammates.”
Echoed Szczepanski, “We always have each other’s back. We always have confidence in our defense.”
MND’s opponent Dublin Coffman comes into the final at 26-2 with one of their losses coming right before the tournament to Toledo St. Ursula.
The Cougars are 22-6 as Joe Burke seeks his fourth Division I championship as MND head coach. Among those playing their final prep game are college commits Christine Carroll (South Carolina-Aiken), Dani Szczepanski (Tennessee-Chattanooga), Sabrina Wolf (Cincinnati) and Sydney Mukes (LSU).
The MND faithful are expected again to pack the Nutter Center’s green seats in powder blue for another adventure in “Cougar Town”.