ASTON >> Brian McCann had seen enough.
Already down a set in the Catholic League girls volleyball championship to Cardinal O’Hara and one point from being down by two sets, the Archbishop Carroll coach called for a timeout. He needed to settle his team down.
The Patriots were in unfamiliar territory. They had not been down by two sets in a match this season. Heck, they had only dropped three individual games coming into the championship match and Mount Saint Joseph’s was the only team to take Carroll to five sets. So you can understand McCann’s concerns.
It turned out to be a match-changing stoppage.
Out of that timeout, a different Carroll team emerged, one that showed the resiliency of a champion.
The Patriots rallied from a four-point deficit to take the second set and bounced back to win the final two games after O’Hara won the third set to stay undefeated and claim the title with a 3-2 victory over the Lions Sunday afternoon at Neumann’s Mirenda Center.
“Coming back the way we did was an amazing, amazing feeling,” senior libero Mary Kate Painter said.
It would be easy to say the difference was outside hitter Hannah Wright, the Catholic League MVP who is headed to Lehigh. All she did was pound 48 kills in the 22-25, 26-25, 19-25, 25-10, 15-8 triumph that kept Carroll’s undefeated record intact.
However, it would not be completely accurate.
“Hannah makes a big difference, there’s no question about that,” McCann said. “She gets us big points. But, you know what, this was a team effort tonight. We got big swings out of a number of players. The defense was incredible. Mary Kate (Painter) was all over the floor. Hannah put balls away. She does all the pretty stuff. Morgan (Silks) was on every set. Everyone contributed.”
Carroll’s defense had as much to do with the victory as anything. With Painter and Gina Custer leading the way, the Patriots (21-0) dug out ball after ball so Silks could set up the hitters and finish with 55 assists.
Painter finished with 19 digs. Custer had 15 digs.
“We weren’t letting anything drop,” Painter said. “It was amazing.”
Carroll’s resiliency was put to the test in the second set when the Lions (20-3) opened up a 24-21 lead and held serve with a chance to go up 2-0. The only other time the Patriots had rallied for a win was a month ago, when they won the final two sets to beat Mount Saint Joseph, 3-2.
After the timeout a block by the Patriots and a hitting error by the Lions cut the deficit to 24-23. Wright took it from there. She pounded back-to-back kills off feeds from Silks to even the match.
“Our team had a mindset that we were losing this game. We were in this game last year (and lost to Archbishop Wood) and we wanted to redeem ourselves,” Wright said. “Our energy really brought us out of that hole.”
It was a disappointing loss for the Lions. Instead of being up, 2-0, the match was tied.
“One of the things I told my team was to learn from everything we do, and when we have an opportunity to close we have to finish it out,” O’Hara coach Bill Collins said. “We didn’t do that and to their credit, they took advantage of it. It’s not like we handed it to them. They absolutely took advantage of it.
“That second set will be something everyone on this team will forever look back on … We’re always going to wonder, ‘If we close out that second set do we win it in three or do they get ticked off, turn it around and win that third set?’ We’ll never know.”
The Lions could have crumbled at that moment but did not. O’Hara showed grit, too. This was not the same team that dropped a 3-0 decision to the Patriots in September.
Like Carroll, O’Hara used its defense and the strong play of Kiki Daly (20 kills, 14 digs), her twin sister, Erin (nine kills, 15 digs) and setting Meghan MacWilliams (55 assists) to make the Patriots sweat once again.
Erin Daly had two kills and Maddie Noble came up with two huge blocks as the Lions ran off seven straight points in the third set to turn a 9-7 deficit into a 14-9 lead. That lead grew to eight points, twice. The Patriots never got closer than four points after that run.
“The first time we played them they beat us up pretty good in three,” Collins said. “I’m not so sure that coming into this match they believed that they could win, but winning the first set turned us around. They were on fire and I can’t be more proud of a team that I’ve coached. These kids gave us everything they had.”
It wasn’t enough because Carroll was able to dig just a little deeper.
With the fourth set tied, 5-5, Carroll ran off 13 of the next 19 points to take control and pull out a five-point victory. The Patriots carried that momentum into the deciding fifth set. Carroll took the lead on a service error and opened up a three-point advantage on back-to-back kills from Wright.
A kill by Erin Daly cut the deficit to 9-7, but Carroll rattled off six of the next seven points to secure the title.
“Winning the way we did, it means everything,” Silks said. “To come back, fight through the nerves and everything else was just incredible. And this wasn’t just for us. This was for our entire school and I’m glad we were able to bring the championship home.”
NOTES >> The Patriots and Lions are moving on. Carroll plays for the District 12 Class 4A title, while the Lions are in the 3A championship game. Both games are at Bishop McDevitt starting with Carroll at 3 p.m., followed by O’Hara and then the Class 2A final. Only the District 12 champion qualifies for the PIAA Tournament, which begins Nov. 8.
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