Junior Courtney Kasperski cranks out a kill for Mount St. Joe’s in last week’s battle with Gwynedd Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Junior Courtney Kasperski cranks out a kill for Mount St. Joe’s in last week’s battle with Gwynedd Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Mount St. Joseph’s five-set volleyball battle with host Gwynedd Mercy back in mid-September was so exciting that last week the Magic decided to recreate the experience for their home fans.

The Mount looked masterful in the early stages of Monday’s match, taking the first two sets at 25-15 and 25-18. Then the Monarchs dug in and got back on equal footing with their hosts with 25-21 and 25-13 decisions in the next two rounds. An abbreviated (up to 15 points instead of 25) fifth set became necessary, and after gaining a 6-1 foothold the Mount went on to prevail 15-9 and record its second 3-2 win over Gwynedd this fall.

Completing a sweep of the Monarchs helped keep the Magic from falling too far behind Villa Maria and Merion Mercy, teams which had beaten Mount St. Joe in the first round of Catholic Academies contests. The importance of last Monday’s victory for the Magic was underscored two days later when the Monarchs pulled off a huge upset, knocking off defending league champ and District 1 power Villa, 3-2.

On Monday at the Mount, the teams were even at 8-8 in the opening set, then the Magic moved ahead for good with a 5-0 run that included two service aces to the rear left corner by junior Jacey Abdalla.

The count rose to 17-9 as MSJ senior Katie Strosser joined up with classmate Monica Goebel for a block and then recorded a kill off a set by Abdalla.

The Magic kept up the pressure with a hit, a tip and a scoring block by Courtney Kasperski, a 5’8” junior whose leaping ability allows her to be effective as an outside hitter. Later, junior Liz Thomas delivered a kill shot down the left side for set point at 25-15.

From a modest 7-6 advantage in the second set, the Mounties took advantage of some Gwynedd errors as they stepped out to a 15-7 lead. The Monarchs steadied themselves, but couldn’t mount a meaningful rally.

Mount St. Joe reached 20 points with the visitors still back at 13. Continuing to mix things up, Kasperski hit the ball for that 20th point and then scored on a block, a tip, and a spinning serve that Gwynedd was unable to return. Set point came at 25-18 when the Monarchs blocked an MSJ hit but the ball then angled outside of the antenna on the net post.

Kasperski, who plays club ball for East Coast Power, said she made an adjustment at the net, starting to hit more cross-courts when GMA began to cover her hits down the sideline.

The junior had two early hits in the third set, then tied it at 5-5 on a block. Determined not to bow out in straight sets, the Monarchs dialed up their game and won 12 of the next 14 points. Much of their success in this stretch came from just tenaciously keeping the ball in play until the Magic lost focus and made errors.

A little later, a scoring tip by Abigail Kress and a hit and a block by fellow junior Gabrielle Green expanded the GMA lead to double digits, 20-10. Sophomore Cassidy Abdalla stepped up with some strong blocking and hitting to help lead an MSJ comeback attempt, but the Magic had gotten themselves too deep in the hole. They came within two points at 23-21, then a hit by Kress got Gwynedd the side-out and set point came when the Mounties could not return a serve by GMA sophomore Lizzy Ferguson.

“We lost our momentum and we didn’t play with as much energy as in the first two sets,” MSJ’s Kasperski said. “We made too many serving and passing mistakes.”

In the fourth set, the Mount stayed close at first, only trailing 7-8 a few minutes in. As in the third set, Gwynedd pulled away to build a significant lead, and this time the Magic couldn’t generate much of a comeback. The Monarchs’ Kress was all over the court, not only performing well in her designated role as hitter, but also making some spectacular digs in the back and along the sidelines.

“They’re a very scrappy team,” said Kasperski. “They hustle and they get to every ball.”

After Kress and company doubled up the hosts at 18-9, Mount St. Joe recouped three points, but then the Magic managed just one more the rest of the way as Gwynedd clinched the set, 25-13.

Huddling up with the match now tied at 2-2, the Mounties discussed the fact that there would be little room for error in the 15-point game that would decide the overall outcome.

As Kasperski related, “We had to discipline ourselves on defense. We had to limit the unforced errors, and altogether pick the energy back up.”

Kress clubbed the ball to give Gwynedd the opening point, but then a GMA serve went out over the baseline. The visitors made four straight hitting and return errors, and a kill by Kasperski made it 6-1 for Mount St. Joseph. GMA got a few points back, but after two more belts by Kasperski and one by Cassidy Abdalla, the visitors called time-out with the tally at 10-5.

The teams exchanged points up to 12-7, then Gwynedd got within three (12-9) thanks to a Kress kill and a hit wide to the right by the Magic. The Monarchs bopped the ball into the ceiling for a side-out, and then failed to return the subsequent Mount serve by freshman Corinne Filograna. Next, Gwynedd drove the ball up to the roof again and could not handle the rebound, with match point going to the Magic.