Mount St. Joe senior co-captain Marissa McBride sets the ball for a volleyball colleague. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

As the teams lined up on the volleyball court before last Tuesday’s PIAA District 1 Tournament opener at Mount St. Joseph Academy, the host Magic were unable to produce either a live or recorded version of the Star Spangled banner.

Fortunately, Sophie Koorhan, a senior starting for visiting Lower Merion High School, accepted the microphone and belted out the national anthem in front of an appreciative audience. The Magic, seeded fifth in the Class AAA playoffs, was able to take care of business after that, dispatching the number-28 Aces in straight games, 25-13, 25-8, 25-10.

The highest-seeded team in the tourney that didn’t receive an opening-round bye (the top four did), Mount St. Joe upped its overall record to 16-4.

Six days earlier, the Magic had prevailed an extended 3-2 battle against Villa Maria to win the championship game of the Catholic Academies Tournament. With that grueling victory, the Mounties avenged a pair of regular-season losses to the Hurricanes, who play inClass AA in the PIAA postseason.

“It was just our time to win, I think,” said senior Marissa McBride, a setter and senior co-captain for the Magic. “Winning the league championship put us in a really good position, and we’re in good spirits.”

With a number of new faces on the MSJ varsity squad this fall, McBride noted, “It basically took us the whole regular season to gel, but’s it’s good to be peaking going into Districts.”

In the Mount’s Class AAA debut last Tuesday, Lower Merion started out with the ball in the first set, but the Magic immediately secured a side-out with a hit by freshman Alex Uzzo. Senior Dominique Pacitti stepped to the service line for six more points, wrapping up the string with a true ace along the left sideline. Sophomore Sarah Thomas also scored on a block and a kill, and from there a pair of kills by junior Moira Mulholland helped the hosts along to a 14-2 advantage.

With Mount bringing a number of players in off the bench, Lower Merion made up some ground, and a few minutes later the tally was 19-10. A hit by Thomas lifted the Magic to the 20-point psychological barrier, and Mulholland banged down a couple of balls as the home team went on to win, 25-13. Set point came when the visitors illegally reached over the net.

One of the longest rallies of the match launched the second set, and after Lower Merion dug out three hits by Thomas, the sophomore terminated the sequence with a successful block. Thomas notched another two kills and Mulholland found the floor on the Aces’ side of the court three times as the Mounties moved out to a 13-3 lead.

Senior Maddy Good, team co-captain along with McBride, sent down two hits and junior Caroline Zakrzewski added another as the Magic cruised, 25-8. In addition to delivering effective sets, McBride played solid defense, as did Pacitti and sophomore libero Monica DeIenno.

MSJ’s Thomas, Uzzo, and Mulholland each made their mark on the scoresheet during a 7-0 run at the start of set three. Lower Merion battled back within five points, 12-7, then a kill by Good got the Magic back on track and they widened the gap once more. Joining Good, McBride, and Pacitti in the thick of the action were fellow seniors Gwyn Kieffer, Meaghan Kiernan, and Kiki Saraceni, and junior Sam Eberle also found herself in the mix.

While Mount St. Joe played a few Class AAA teams during the regular season, they have not faced the schools remaining in their half of the playoff bracket.

“I hope we make it into the final four, so we can go to the state tournament,” McBride said, “but we’ll have to win some tough games to get there, so we can’t think too far ahead.”

UPDATE – On Thursday night host Mount St. Joseph registered a 3-1 win against 12th-seeded Methacton High School, moving on into the quarterfinals to face number four Strath Haven this week.