Senior Caitlyn Priore has been Germantown Academy’s top setter all season. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

For many years, the Irish of the Academy of Notre Dame have presented a major obstacle for Germantown Academy in the Patriots’ quest for an Inter-Ac League championship. GA won the league in 2015, but Notre Dame claimed the title in each of the next three seasons.

This fall, Germantown secured a 3-1 victory over its traditional rival in an Oct. 1 contest and was undefeated in both the league and overall coming into the rematch last Tuesday at Notre Dame. After the teams split the first two sets (25-22 Notre Dame, 25-19 GA), the Irish captured the next two at 25-23, 25-21. With one more match still on the Inter-Ac schedule for the Patriots (6-1, 15-1 overall), it was now likely that GA would share the 2019 league title with Notre Dame.

As the match got underway, four early kills by GA junior Natalie Schildt, along with a scoring tip by freshman Fiona McKenna and a block by senior Caitlyn Priore and junior Becca Booth got the Patriots out to a 6-1 lead. That would be the largest gap between the teams during the first set, as the Irish got back even at 7-7 and the two sides went almost neck and neck from there.

Later, a tip by junior Mackenzie Smith and a kill by McKenna put Germantown up 21-19, then Notre Dame got a side-out on a double-hit call and rattled off three more points. The Pats called timeout, trailing 23-21, then the tally rose to 24-22 with a tip over a GA block by the Irish and a hit by McKenna in response. Notre Dame senior Riley Shaak, who will sign with North Carolina State, hit the ball into a GA block and the ball went out off of the Patriots to end the set.

In the middle of the second set, the hosts were ahead 12-10, then they served into the net for a GA side-out. McKenna stepped to the back line and sent over two sinking serves that Notre Dame could not return. The freshman remained at the service stripe as the visitors extended their run to 8-0, forcing an Irish timeout as the Patriots led, 18-12.

Notre Dame never fully recovered from this GA surge. Coming out of the timeout, the home team narrowed the gap to three points at 19-16, but the Patriots steadied themselves and didn’t allow the Irish to get any closer than that.

After a hit by Schildt got Germantown to the brink of set point at 24-18, the Irish acquired one last point on a hit by AND’s Sara McDougall, not one of her team’s tallest players but one of its craftiest. In the middle, GA’s Booth finished the set with a hit that sent the ball glancing sideways and down off the Notre Dame front row. The Patriots had evened the match at one game apiece.

GA senior Kelli Ramer (left) and freshman Fiona McKenna both go low to dig out a sinking serve by Notre Dame. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

An impressive offensive showing by Schildt helped the Pats stay a step or two ahead of the Irish in the early minutes of the third set. GA went up by a half-dozen points at 13-7, but then the Irish got right back in it with a 5-0 run. The Pats had trouble handling a few serves from Notre Dame’s Christine Covello during this stretch, and the home team drew even at 16-16 a bit later.

The score seesawed to 17-all, then a good dig by senior Kelli Ramer led to a kill by Priore. Schildt scored on two tips to make it 20-17, but the Irish came back to tie with three points of their own. Those three points came back to GA on two Notre Dame mistakes and a hit by Schildt, and the visitors appeared on the verge of capturing the second set as they led, 23-21.

Grace Guerin of the Irish scored on a hit for a side-out, then GA hit a ball into the net and failed to return a serve by Guerin, falling behind 24-23. A kill by McDougall from the left outside wrapped up the set, and Notre Dame gained a 2-1 advantage in the match. Serving errors were a problem for the Patriots; they lost seven points in the third set alone in this manner.

Although the Irish got an early jump on the Pats in the fourth set and assumed a 9-4 lead, it was a closer contest the rest of the way. A Schildt spike stopped GA’s initial slide, and the visitors eventually climbed into a tie at 13-13.

More kills by Schildt and some Notre Dame errors had GA leading by a few points several times. With the Patriots ahead 20-18, the Irish got a side-out with a hit by McDougall and then ran off five more points in a row. Notre Dame ended the run itself with a tip out of bounds to make it 24-21, but GA then served the ball out over the right sideline to bring the match to an end.

UPDATE: On Friday, Oct. 25, 32 assists by Priore and 22 kills by Schildt helped GA defeat Baldwin School, 3-0. The Patriots officially became Inter-Ac co-champions, matching Notre Dame’s 7-1 league record.