There was no mystery about Seton Keough's strategy entering the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference volleyball championship at Roland Park on Friday night. It was another night of feed the monster.
The Monster — otherwise known as senior outside hitter Ijeoma Igwe — delivered, giving the No. 3 Gators their first-ever IAAM championship in volleyball with a victory over defending champion Archbishop Spalding, 27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 25-18.
Igwe finished with 21 kills on the night.
The Gators came out very tentative, falling behind, 20-12, but then they started to calm down. They finally tied the score at 24-24, and took the set with an Igwe kill and a Bosong Titanji tap over the net. It was emblematic of the Gators' tenacity this year in posting a perfect 18-0 record.
"We came out a little slow, but then [Igwe] got in her groove," Seton Keough coach S.J. Greenway said. "We just needed to settle down a little and then we were fine."
The second set was a little more one-sided as the Gators took a 10-3 lead. The No. 15 Cavaliers (14-5), behind the serving of All-Metro player Kristen Seeba's (17 kills, 2 blocks) nine straight service points, rallied to tie the score at 20-20. Then Igwe took over, serving five straight winners — the last two being aces — as Seton Keough went up two sets to none.
Spalding pulled away in the third set, using a strong defensive game for a 25-16 win.
The Gators took the match in the final set, as sophomore Rachel Bentley scored eight straight service points en route to a 25-18 win and the title.
"They were defending me very well, but I knew I couldn't get frustrated," Igwe said. "We have our letdowns and our breakdown as a team, but we really wanted this — and we wanted a perfect season. For us to pull that off is just amazing."
In the B Conference championship, Mercy used clutch serving and great defense to win a five-set thriller over host Roland Park, 19-25, 25-17, 25-21, 22-25, 17-15.
The victory gives the Magic (13-5) their first B Conference championship since 2007. Mercy lost both times it faced the Reds (15-3) in the regular season this year.
Roland Park began the match with a 25-19 win in the first set, but Mercy won the next two sets — 25-17 and 25-21 — and appeared in control in the fourth set. The Magic led, 20-16, before Roland Park went on a 9-2 rally to take the fourth set, 25-22.
In the final set, Mercy trailed at several points, including 13-12, before a kill by Caitlin Shanahan tied the score at 13-13. The teams traded points until the score was 15-15, and then the Magic used two kills by Samantha Hruz to finish the match.
"We kept our confidence up, and our emotions in check," Mercy junior Lindsay Berg said. "Our serving game won us the match. We had trouble in the being of the year missing serves, but we didn't miss many at all today."