by Tom Utescher
Mount St. Joseph Academy opened last Thursday’s home volleyball match against Strath Haven High School with a 25-20 win, and in each of the next three games the Magic were no more than two points away from victory. However, the visiting Panthers were able to rebound in those last three rounds, winning two of them at 26-24, and then taking the fourth game, 25-23, to clinch a 3-1 match victory and go 17-2 on the season.
The Magic did close out the week in a strong position in Catholic Academies play, though, having completed a season sweep of Gwynedd Mercy on Tuesday to reach double figures in the win column, at 10-1. The Mount lost to AACA co-leader Villa Maria by a 3-1 count in early September, but avenged that defeat on October 1, winning 3-2 over the Hurricanes.
After league play wraps up this week, the Magic should move into the District 1 Class AAA tournament (most other ACAA teams are in the double-A category), and that means they will be seeing more of teams like Strath Haven. Recently, the Mounties have been preparing for this by playing some strong non-league opponents, although the results haven’t been what they’d hoped for. On October 5 they fell to Lehigh Valley power Allentown Central Catholic, and a day after the Strath Haven match the Magic succumbed to Lansdale Catholic, ending the week at 13-4 overall.
Thursday was Senior Day at the Mount, and before starting up with Strath Haven, the team celebrated the careers of Samantha Burns, Samantha Eberle, Liz McKernan, Moira Mulholland, and twins Caroline and Elizabeth Zakrzewski.
The Magic looked good out of the gate, building an early lead that forced the Panthers to call a time-out as they trailed, 13-7. With two kills and a scoring tip by junior middle Sarah Thomas, the Mounties had their guests doubled up at 16-8, but then Strath Haven battled back within a point at 16-15, helped along by some MSJ errors.
The score seesawed to 17-16, then the Magic collected five of the next eight points, benefitting from multiple miscues by their guests, as well as a tip by Mulholland and a hit by Elizabeth Zakrzewski. The Panthers picked up a point for a side-out, but then sent their subsequent serve into the net for a 23-20 tally. Game point arrived when the visitors hit a ball out over the baseline, and the Mount clinched the game when the Panthers were unable to return a serve by sophomore Alex Uzzo.
It was the Magic who got into a hole as game two got underway. They fell behind four points, tied the game at 9-9, but later found themselves down 20-15. They steadied themselves, and the visitors began to make mistakes, serving and hitting the ball out-of-bounds or into the net. Thomas and Uzzo recorded kills along the way as the Magic moved ahead, 23-22.
After an exchange of points, Mount St. Joe was just one point away from going up 2-0 in the match, but was called for a double hit on the next sequence. Strath Haven’s big banger, senior outside Bridget Scott, thumped the ball for a 25-24 edge, then a successful block put the game away for the guests, 26-24.
Strath Haven’s skillful blocking would cause a problem for the Mounties all afternoon, and far too often the Magic hit the ball straight into the outstretched arms of their opponents.
Getting a 5-0 jump in the third game, the Mount stayed in the lead until Strath Haven eventually pulled even at 18-all. After MSJ edged ahead again, the Panthers called time-out when they were down 21-19, and again when they trailed 23-20. A hit by Scott, a tip by Brianna Fischer, and a Mount hit out past the baseline leveled the score at 23-23.
A cross-court hit by junior Jess Tyrrell got the Mount to the brink of game point, but the hosts didn’t score again. Panthers senior Alice Roberts rode to the rescue with back-to-back hits, then scored on a tip to give ‘Haven another 26-24 win, and a 2-1 lead in the match.
Midway through the fourth round, the Magic were up 15-10, but as in the previous game, the visitors caught up at 18-18 and it was a pitched battle from there. A 4-1 spurt for the hosts began with a hit by Mulholland. MSJ freshman Jacey Abdalla sent over a serve that Strath Haven couldn’t return, but her next attempt went out of bounds. Following another Mulholland drive, Caroline Zakrzewski tipped the ball over a Panther block to make it 22-19.
The visitors ran off four straight points, on two kills by Fischer and one by Roberts, which were followed by an effective block. An error by each team brought up match point for Strath Haven at 24-23, and from the outside left spot Roberts hit crosscourt to score off an MSJ block.