by Tom Utescher
Following a pair of scrimmages prior to Labor Day, Mount St. Joseph Academy’s volleyball team began its official game schedule last week by jumping right into the thick of the Catholic Academies competition last week. Evidently, the defending AACA champs were ready to take the plunge, as they went on the road to knock off two habitual title contenders in the league, Merion Mercy Academy and St. Basil’s.
After dropping a close opening game at Merion, the Magic came back to capture the next three for a 3-1 match victory on Tuesday.
More impressive was Thursday afternoon’s 3-0 sweep of the St. Basil Panthers, who are always tough to beat on their home court. Everybody’s defensive game plan against the Panthers involves trying to contain senior hitter Angela Evans, who was a Class AA All-State selection last fall and who has committed to play for the University of Chicago.
One of the Mount seniors has also made a college commitment. Moira Mulholland, an outside hitter who was a 2012 All-State pick in Class AAA, is following her older sister Cara (MSJ ’06) to Lafayette College. She is one of the Mount team captains this season, along with setter Samantha Eberle.
Fellow 12th graders Sammy Burns and Caroline Zakrzewski started in the match against Basil’s, and Zakrzewski’s twin sister Elizabeth subbed in later on. The juniors in the regular rotation are 6’1” middle hitter Sarah Thomas and defensive specialist Monica DiIenno. Alex Uzzo is representing the sophomore class, and Jacey Abdalla and Danielle Rippert are freshmen who have earned roles on the varsity squad.
In game one, the Panthers went up 2-0 before their errant third serve put the Mount on the board, and with Uzzo at the service line the Magic ran off four straight points. The visitors led the rest of the way, looking to break the game open after gaining a 13-6 advantage, but then seeing the host team tighten the score to 14-10.
A communication error by Basil’s gave the side-out to Mount St. Joe, with Uzzo once again at the service line. Three of her four serves during this stint were not returned, and a hit by Mulholland finished out a fourth sequence as the score spread out to 19-10. Evans responded with a kill for the Panthers, but her team would only score two more points. A St. Basil serve out over the baseline gave the Mounties game point at 25-13.
The second game ended with the same score, but it featured a somewhat different scenario. The Magic went ahead early once more, 6-1, but this time that advantage vanished entirely as the Panthers pulled back into a 9-9 tie. A few rallies later the Magic secured a side-out through an SBA error to edge ahead, 11-10. Now the visitors stayed in front for good as Thomas started to score on blocks at the net, in conjunction with Caroline Zakrzewski. After four MSJ points Basil’s got a side-out, but the home team turned the ball over right away, sending a serve into the net as the tally rose to 16-11.
One of the Magic freshmen, Abdalla, rotated into serving position for six straight points. During this spree Thomas collected a couple of kills, one of them coming off a rousing dig by Mulholland, while Uzzo also scored on a hit. St. Basil couldn’t recover, going down 0-2 in the match.
The host team definitely did not want to fall victim to a shutout on its home floor, and the Panthers battled ferociously in game three. Despite this, the Magic displayed the mental toughness to close out the match in straight games. Players on both sides flung their bodies around with abandon, making great saves to extend rallies.
The 12th tie of the game had the teams even at 18-18, then two errors by Basil’s and a kill by Uzzo moved the Mounties ahead, 21-18. The Magic made a few miscues of their own and also gave up a kill as the Panthers drew even at 21-all.
Trying for the lead, the Panthers were forced to make a high pass that went out over the baseline, then MSJ’s DiIenno served out the last three points, with the match ending on a slam by Thomas for a 25-21 final.