Mount St. Joseph senior Ailene Woznicki puts the ball away against Merion Mercy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In a gritty Catholic Academies volleyball battle in which the loser in each set scored no fewer than 20 points, host Mount St. Joseph Academy eventually succumbed to AACA leader Merion Mercy by a 3-1 count last Thursday evening. After Merion took an early lead, the Magic tied the bout at 1-1, then the Golden Bears prevailed in the next two sets.

The Magic came away with an 8-3 league record, with their only other setback coming at Villa Maria Academy. The Mount still had a return match with Villa left on the schedule, along with a doubleheader against Nazareth Academy.

Under first-year head coach Amy Bergin, Mount St. Joseph has also enjoyed success outside of the AACA, going 8-2 against non-league opponents for an overall mark of 16-5. In mid-September, one of the Mounties reached an individual milestone, as senior libero Corinne Filograna surpassed the 1000 mark in career digs.

Before last Thursday’s contest, the Mount gave a Senior Day sendoff to all six members of the Class of 2018: Filograna and her twin sister Elena, Cassidy Abdalla, Mallory Baus, Peggy Gorman and Ailene Woznicki.

Once the action got underway it soon became apparent that this would be a tooth-and-nail tussle. In the opening set Merion would edge ahead and the Magic would come back to tie the score, although they were never able to break through into the lead.

The last tie came at 16-16, and a few minutes later the Mounties were still only behind by one point, 20-21. Two more Merion points caused the hosts to call a time-out, but when play resumed a Mount hit off the antenna at one end of the net brought up set point for the Golden Bears. The segment then ended as the Mount was unable to cope with a strong serve by the visitors.

The Bears broke out to a 4-1 advantage in the second set, and they were still up by three points later on, at 11-8. A hit by Abdalla secured the side-out and sent MSJ junior Sasha Davey back to the service line. A kill and a scoring block, both by Woznicki, evened up the set for the Magic. From 11-11, the teams proceeded pretty much in lock step up to 20-20.

A smack by junior Summer Adamson moved the hosts ahead and Abdalla then sent over a sinking serve that befuddled the Bears. On Abdalla’s next serve, it took the visitors three touches to get the ball back over the net, and it landed outside of the left sideline.

Mallery Baus (right) lines up a pass for the Mount. At left is her senior classmate, Corinne Filograna. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The visitors called time-out, down 20-23, and then they picked up a side-out when an MSJ serve burrowed into the net. Next, the Mount reached the brink of victory (24-21) when the netting also ensnared a low hit by the Bears.

A long rally followed, and although Magic junior Catie Esslinger made a dramatic save on one tip by Merion, the Bears scored on a similar maneuver later on in the same sequence. Mount St. Joe wrapped up the set, 25-22, when Adamson spotted an opening and pushed the ball straight along the sideline deep into the visitors’ court.

From an 11-all score in the third frame, Merion strung three points together and was able to maintain a modest lead up to 20-17. When their guests went up by five points, the Magic called time-out. Coming back out, the Mounties profited from a double hit by the Bears, and they got their deficit back down to three when it was ruled that Merion had touched the ball on an MSJ kill stroke that looked to be headed out over the baseline.

Mount St. Joseph coughed up a point through a service error, then Merion went up 24-19 on a hit by their big outside basher, senior Makenna Hallager. The Mount responded with a kill by junior Megan McGettigan, but on the next exchange the Magic were called for a double hit and fell behind 2-1 in the match score as the game ended 25-20.

In addition to Hallager, Merion had a dangerous weapon in the middle in savvy senior Genevieve Whitlock, who exhibited good body control while in the air and also a cunning sense of when and where to tip the ball across the net instead of smash it.

Opening round four with a kill by Abdalla, the Magic recorded three more points during a serving stint by Baus. The Golden Bears soon caught up as they began to get points on attack from players other than the two usual suspects.

After the final tie of the match came at 19-19, Merion reeled off four straight points on strikes by Whitlock and Hallager and a pair of Mount errors. After a whack by Adamson got one point back for the home team, Abdalla scored on a hit from the middle row and then struck again with a cross-court shot from back up at the net.

The Magic had drawn back within one point (22-23) of the leaders, but the Bears knew what players to go to in the clutch, and hits by Hallager and Whitlock decided the game and the match in Merion’s favor.