After coming out of nowhere to win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference volleyball championship last year, Mount de Sales found itself the hunted instead of the hunter this season.
The No. 5 Sailors wore the mantle well Saturday, rallying in all three sets to defeat a scrappy St. Paul’s team, 25-20, 26-24, 25-20 and repeat as A Conference champions at Goucher College.
As has been the case most of the year, the Sailors (14-3) were led by returning All-Metro performers Mary Grace Goyena and Chidinma Onukwugha.
“We had some slow starts in all three of the [sets], but we came together,” Onukwugha said. “They beat us in five [Oct. 19], so we really wanted to come out here and do this in three this time. We played with a target on our back this year, and that definitely made it more challenging.”
“I’m really happy for the girls,” said first-year Sailors coach Pat Dayton, who was an assistant at St. Paul’s last season. “We talked a lot about [being the defending champion], and how we were going to get everybody’s best this season. We had some bumps along the way, but I think we handled it well.”
The Sailors actually found themselves trailing for a good portion of the first set, but settled down in the middle. The rally was keyed by junior Grace Wallace, who served six straight service winners and changed a 17-15 deficit into a 19-18 lead. After a kill tied the set at 19, the Sailors used blocks by Goyena and Onukwugha to outscore the Gators, 6-1, and take the first set.
The second set was like a tale of two different teams for the Sailors. St. Paul’s (15-4) repeatedly capitalized on Mount de Sales’ mistakes, but couldn’t put the Sailors away. With St. Paul’s leading 21-16 after a kill by Jalen Dickerson, Mount de Sales came back. The Sailors got four kills by Onukwugha to roar back for a 26-24 victory.
The third set was pretty much a copy of the previous two, with the Sailors using kills by Onukwugha, Goyena and Abby Kuhn down the stretch to break a 17-17 tie and earn a 25-20 win.
St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkinson was upbeat about her team’s performance.
“If you’d have told me at the start of the year that we’d be here, I’d have laughed at you,” Wilkinson said. “We made a lot of unforced errors in the match, and that and our lack of offense did us in. You just can’t make errors like that against a team like Mount de Sales.”
In the B conference, Catholic (13-4) jumped all over top-seeded St. Mary’s (15-3), defeating the Saints 25-21, 25-21, 25-20. Catholic was led by 21 kills by senior Olivia Adams.
The Cubs controlled the action for most of the match, and continually found ways to keep St. Mary’s on its heels. The largest deficit Catholic faced was at 4-0 in the second set, but it quickly rallied to take an 8-7 lead and never looked back.
“We knew that, in order to beat them, we couldn’t chase them,” Adams said. “We had to be aggressive and on the offensive. We played as one unit. They are a very good team, and it feels great to end my high school career by beating them and win the title.”
In the C Conference final, Crownsville’s Indian Creek (10-1), in its first year playing volleyball, defeated Friends School (11-5), 30-28, 25-23, 25-20. The Eagles rallied from a 24-15 deficit to take the first set, and never looked back.
“We had first-match jitters, but I told them we had to change our mentality,” Indian Creek coach Corey Somerville said. “I told them we had to fight. We’ve been behind before and had to fight our way back, and that’s what we did.”
MIAA Volleyball Championships
(at Goucher College)
Indian Creek d Friends 30-28, 25-23, 25-20
Catholic d St. Mary’s 25-21, 25-21, 25-20
Mount de Sales d St. Paul’s 25-20, 26-24, 25-20