Unbeaten No. 5 Notre Dame Prep proved they could win with some dramatic flair, when the host Blazers (5-0) upended No. 11 St. Paul’s (3-4), 25-23, 30-32, 25-15, 25-21, Tuesday evening in a volleyball battle for the top spot in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.
The Blazers moved to 3-0 in the conference, while the Gators dropped to 2-1.
They did it with a spirited comeback in the fourth game, after trailing 20-13.
Following a side out, senior Katherine Gilbert (match high 15 kills) served seven straight points and put the Blazers on top, 21-20.
She started with a pair of aces, then watched as junior hitter Natalie Garinther (14 kills) went to work hitting on the outside with the help of sophomore libero Jess Kelly and junior setter Anna Carmen.
Garinther scored three of the next four points.
Gianna Saverese scoring the other one after a rally-saving dig from Emma Craig.
“We just came out really pumped up and it was just the energy of the whole team,” said Garinther. “The momentum just keeps you going. When you get a point, you just want to keep going and it was a pivotal moment in the game.”
St. Paul’s finally stemmed the tide on a kill from Notre Dame Prep transfer Bella Pivec (team-high 10 kills) and tied it at 21-all.
Garinther answered with her fifth kill of the fourth set and junior Paige Hudak served out the match with the aid of a block from Francesca Zink.
“The team was really fired up,” Gilbert said. “We wanted to win so badly and we had great energy so I was pumped.”
Her spot serves came at the perfect time.
“I just served deep float serves and made them tough for them to pass,” she said.
Notre Dame Prep coach Jim Ipshording didn’t want to see a fifth set after they had taken the third convincingly.
“I told them this is our match and we are not going into a fifth set and I told them to go play like champions like I know they can,” he said.
St. Paul’s was short-handed, but they played like champions in the second set, when they survived a 62-point affair.
The Gators were without All-Conference junior hitter Jillian Randolph. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the opener against Broadneck and is scheduled for knee surgery on Oct. 18.
They were also missing junior starter Kendall Burdette, senior Allayna Philadelphia and sophomore Erin Kelly, who were ill.
But, in the second set, they followed the defensive lead of junior libero Shannon Wagner, with strong hitting from Pivec and MaryLouise Sparrow (8 kills), and solid blocking by Cassidy Crossland.
The set was tied from points one through nine, before the Gators inched away.
Leading 21-20, they appeared ready to close it out in regulation behind the serving of Sharon Hull, a clutch kill from Pivec and block by Cassidy, that gave them a 24-19 lead.
But, NDP reeled off five straight points and took a 25-24 lead on an ace by Craig.
Pivec’s block kept the score even at 25 and the team’s traded points until it was 30-30 and St. Paul’s senior setter Amanda Blank on the service line.
She ended the marathon set with consecutive aces.
St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkinson praised her team’s passing in the second set, but it strayed in the final two.
Isphording was elated with his squad’s passing, led by Maryvale Prep transfer Kelly.
“Jess had an awesome game,” he said. “In my opinion, she was my MVP.”