Visiting Notre Dame Prep brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the first set of the Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference volleyball semifinals against unbeaten Seton Keough.
But when the dust had settled, it was to much Ijeoma Igwe for the fourth-seeded Blazers (8-5) to overcome.
The top-seeded Gators (17-0) won 17-25, 25-18, 25-22, 25-14 and advanced to the championship match against second-seeded Archbishop Spalding on Friday, Oct. 26 at Roland Park Country School (7:30 p.m.).
Igwe finished with 50 kills, off 73 hits, four blocks and four aces.
Her most dominating work came in the third set when she had 17 kills and made some defensive saves of well-placed deep balls.
“She got into a groove and she wasn’t missing,” Seton Keough coach SJ Greenway said. “She just dominated that third set.”
Notre Dame Prep coach Jim Isphording knew they had to neutralize Igwe to win the match and they held her to seven kills in the first set.
“That was the game plan,” Isphording said. “Keep it out of her hands. We were very emotional in the first set and then we lost the second and third and we lost our emotion.”
In the first set, NDP setters Anna Carmen and Emma Craig took turns spreading the wealth on offense.
Bella Pierce had three of her six kills and a pair of blocks and Sydney Tommins (match-high 11 kill) and Grace Folderauer (9 kills) combined for five kills in the opening set.
Libero Katherine Gilbert set the tone of the match with strong defense.
“I loved their libero (Gilbert),” Greenway said. “She is really something to watch.”
Seton Keough’s defense of Jeni Ford, Brooke Stiner and Meg Wickless also came alive in the second set and setter Rachel Robinson (58 assists) took advantage, setting Igwe in the front and back rows.
“We definitely rely on Igwe a lot because she is a great player, but we have a fantastic defense,” Robinson said.
They also got serving contributions from Bosong Titanji, Megan Bently and Rachel Pollock and front row help from Emily Burgess and Hailee Clampitt.
Bently had an ace and served three straight points in the third set when the Gators expanded a 12-10 lead to 15-10 and the Blazers never got closer than two points the rest of the way.
Burgess had a clutch kill to give the Gators a 20-18 lead in the third set and Igwe scored the next five points on a variety of kills.
Titanji served five straight points early in the fourth set and Clampitt saved a ball off the net to keep a point alive.
NDP’s Folderauer had five kills in the third set and Tommins had three in the final set, but they never regained the rhythm they had in the first set.
“His girls came out pumped in the first set and they got some blocks on Ije and you get a couple blocks on her and it really pumps you up,” Greenway said. “Ije came into the second set and settled down in the back row and it was phenomenal.”