Mount de Sales, the prohibitive favorite entering Saturday’s Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference volleyball championship, stumbled but they didn’t fall.
The ninth-ranked Sailors rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat tenacious St. Paul’s, 18-25, 23-25, 25-14, 25-18, 15-13, at Roland Park and win the school’s fifth A Conference title.
As has been the case all year, the Sailors (14-2) were led by freshmen Mary Grace Goyena and Chidinma Onukwugha.
The Sailors fell behind in both of the first two sets. Although they rallied, the Gators (9-6) were up to the task in both, holding off Mount de Sales.
“We were in the huddle [after the second set] and Coach told us we were playing scared,” Goyena said. “I think we were a little fazed by the big crowd and the noise level in the gym. After we calmed down, things started to fall into place.”
After an 8-8 tie in the third set, Hanna Katulski served the next eight points for a 16-8 lead. Mount de Sales scored nine of the final 15 points to take the set, 25-14.
St. Paul’s had the score tied at 10 in the fourth set, when Sailors coach Tuan Nguyen called a timeout. After that, the Sailors used several kills by Goyena and Onukwugha to run to a 22-17 lead. After a kill by St. Paul’s Mone’t Peoples, the Sailors used a St. Paul’s service error, a kill by Onukwugha, and an ace by Grace Jennings to take the set, 25-18.
The Sailors, behind Goyena’s service winners, ran out to a 5-1 lead in the next set. The Gators used the serving of Morgan Hill to run to a 6-5 lead. After that, Onukwugha came to life. She had four kills to give the Sailors a 14-11 lead. After a Mount de Sales service error and an Ava Turner kill cut the led to 14-13, Mount de Sales won the match on a St. Paul’s service error.
“This feels amazing,” Onukwugha said. “We’ve had an incredible season, and this is a great ending. I really feel great for our seniors, and we wanted to do this for them. It didn’t start out that great, but it all worked out in the end.”
St. Frances d. St. John’s-Catholic Prep, 3-0: In the C Conference Championship, St. Frances dominated from beginning to end to defend its championship and defeat Frederick’s St. John’s Catholic Prep, 25-18, 25-23, 25-19.
The Panthers (10-3) used a two-setter system of Madyson Hinton and Nailah Taylor in the final, which was something they never employed in the regular season. The arrangement seemed to frustrate St. John’s (10-4), keeping the Vikings on their toes most of the match.
“Our plan was to dominate from the beginning, and that’s pretty much what happened,” St. Frances coach Nyteria Burrell said. “They beat us in the regular season in five [sets], but they are my favorite team that we play. They show great sportsmanship, and they make us a better team.”
Panthers outside hitter Taneara Moore, who played on last year’s team, said this year’s title was definitely the more satisfying of the two.
“We were the underdog this year, and we lost some great players from last year,” Moore said. “This was a great win, because we really showed our heart."