Throughout the 2011 season, Toledo St. Ursula Academy breezed through its regular season at 22-0 and was the top-ranked Division I team in the Ohio Volleyball Coaches Asociation poll.
In those 22 wins, only five teams were able to push the Arrows to a fourth game. One of those was the fifth-ranked Magnificat Blue Streaks.
The Blue Streaks had a chance to do it again Saturday in the Norwalk Division I Regional championship match. But SUA erased a five-point deficit late in the second set and came away with a 25-13, 25-23, 25-22 win to successfully defend its regional crown.
The Arrows, now 26-0, will play Walsh Jesuit Friday at 2 p.m. in the state semifinals at Wright State University’s Nutter Center. That follows the noon semifinal between Findlay and Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame.
Magnificat saw its season come to a close at 21-6 after being eliminated by the Arrows for the second-straight season.
“I think everybody started to get a little tentative out there. You can’t do that against a team like St. Ursula,” said head coach Mike Cannon about the second set.
“They have a great team, and I think we let that get into our head a little bit those last five points,” Cannon. “We had three unforced errors, I think, in the last six points.”
The Blue Streaks, after self-inflicted wounds cost them dearly in the first set, steadied the ship in the second set and jumped out to a 10-7 lead. After a SUA timeout, Magnificat continued to control the action with a pair of kills off the block from Cayley Balser and one each from Molly McCormick and Nicole Keshock.
A service ace by Rikki Kucinski gave the Streaks an 18-12 lead and forced Arrows head coach John Buck to burn his second timeout. The resulting 6-3 run by the Arrows cut the Magnificat lead to three, 21-18, forcing a Blue Streak timeout.
That’s when the errors that plagued the Streaks in the first set began to resurface.
The next attack went long, and the second one wide. SUA’s Madison Strall followed with a kill off the block to tie the score at 21-21 and force Magnificat’s second timeout. Strall answered with a slide to her right for a kill, then the Blue Streaks were called for four hits to make it 23-21, Arrows.
McCormick came back with a kill, and Michaela Gabanic and Balser teamed up for a block kill. But a kill by the Arrows Maddie Burham and a quick attack from Casidy Croci ended the set and swung the momentum back to SUA.
Magnificat played well in the third set and stayed withing a point or two of the Arrows most of the way. But at 21-20, SUA used a pair of Burham kills to finish off the set and the match.
For the match, Balser led the way with 12 kills on 30 attacks. The Arrows, however, managed to shut down the rest of the Blue Streaks’ attack as McCormick was next with five kills. Clare Schirmer was next with four, while Maddy Koz was held to three.
“We knew what we wanted to do,” Cannon said. “We wanted to take their one middle, Croci, out and let someone else try to beat us. For the most part, we were getting what we wanted because she killed us the first time we played them.
“But you can’t miss serves against teams like this. We worked really hard on serving aggressively this week. After last night’s practice, I felt that wasn’t going to be an issue today.
“I think the nerves and the jitters got us a little bit. You can’t put 11 points on the board for them like we did in the second set. We’re going into another set right now if we take those off,” he added.
Despite the losss, Cannon said this year’s team set a positive example for future varsity squads.
“We had outstanding senior leadership this year,” Cannon said of his senior group of Schirmer, Koz, Kucinski, Ashley McCormick, Grace Conroy, Dana Feddrix and Faith Bindernagel. “They showed these guys what it’s like to have fun and play together. I’m proud of them for that.”