by Tom Utescher
The visiting volleyball Lions of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy led for long stretches in the first and third sets of last Wednesday’s road match, but in the end they couldn’t make a dent in the undefeated record of the host Owls of Agnes Irwin.
Irwin has lost in tournaments, but in regular head-to-head bouts the Owls improved to 8-0 with their 3-0 victory over SCH last week, while the Lions’ record leveled out at 3-3.
“They’ve a good team and we didn’t play as well as we could’ve,” said SCH junior co-captain Gianna Pownall. “We did well for the most part, but when we got the lead we let them come back on us.”
In the opening set, SCH moved up out of a 3-3 tie to score five straight points, two of them coming on hits by sophomore middle Courtney Hamilton. With Pownell scoring on two tips over the AI front row, the Lions led 12-9 a few minutes later, but the Owls rallied, caught up at 13-all, and then moved ahead by two points.
Irwin’s lanky Hammarskjold sisters, senior Victoria and sophomore Alexandra, combined hits and well-chosen tips to rally the hosts, with junior outside hitter Katherine Boris joining in, as well. The visitors came back to tie at 15-all, then the Owls ran off five points in a row and went on to take the set, 25-19.
One of the reasons the Lions were able to stay in the set most of the way is that their defense has improved significantly over last year.
“We’re always pretty upbeat and pretty intense on defense,” said the other junior co-captain for SCH, Michelle Cybularz. “I think we understand it better because we have a year under our belts. We know where we should be on the court, and we’re improving at figuring out what the other teams are trying to do.”
In the second segment of the match the hosts did not allow themselves to fall behind, but the Lions stayed close and in the middle of the set they only trailed by two, 14-12. A put-back by Kenzie Lucas and a kill by fellow senior Janie Whelan helped Irwin gain some separation, and SCH only managed one more point as the set ended at 25-13.
A block by senior middle Elana Roadcloud and an unreturned serve by freshman outside Julia Moriarty got the Lions going in round three, and when the over-eager Owls batted a number of balls outside the boundaries, the Lions found themselves up, 7-2. They held onto the lead a while longer, gaining a 14-7 advantage before Irwin got a rally underway.
After a side-out to make it 14-8, Victoria Hammarskjold stepped to the service line and the Owls ran off six more points in a row to erase their early deficit. The set was tied for the final time at 18-18, and the visitors could only muster one point after that. Junior Anne Mentzinger scored on a hit and a tip to help close out the set at 25-19, wrapping up the match victory for Agnes Irwin.
“Our defense has definitely improved, but we still need to communicate better,” commented the Lions’ Pownall. “We’re working on our blocking, and we’re also trying to be more consistent with our serves.”