Sharp on backline, Notre Dame wins PAISAA title

LOWER MERION >> Notre Dame lost to Germantown Academy twice during the regular season, largely because the Irish could not contain GA’s outside hitters Carly Pruitt and Grace Polisano.

And so, with a possible rematch with the Patriots looming in the championship game of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association girls volleyball tournament, Notre Dame coach Mike Sheridan spent the last two weeks working on his team’s backline defense.

It was a wise decision.

The backline defense set the tone as Notre Dame rallied to win its third straight PAISAA championship with a 3-2 victory over Germantown Academy Wednesday afternoon at the Baldwin School.

The second-seeded Irish (17-5) took the final two sets to win 22-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-19 and 15-10.

“They killed it,” senior setter Ali Rae said of Notre Dame’s backline defense. “If I had to pick it, our libero would be my MVP for this match.”

That would be senior co-captain Ashley Haas, who was on the service line in the fifth set as the Irish rattled off seven straight points to take a commanding 10-3 lead. However, it was her work on defense, along with Elise Butler, Kristen Rogers and Madi Brennan, among others, that proved to be the difference.

Haas finished with 31 digs. Butler added 16 digs and 10 aces.

“That’s what we practiced,” Haas said. “Our whole focus was on defense. We knew who had the ball wherever it was hit.”

Pruitt still had 20 kills, to go along with eight digs and one ace. Grace Polisano finished with 14 kills, while Cat Polisano dished out 38 assists and had four aces.

“We still couldn’t stop their outside hitters,” Sheridan said. “I’m not quite sure how we won.”

The Irish kept enough kill attempts alive long enough to go on the offensive, which enabled Notre Dame to overcome a 2-1 deficit to hand the top-seeded Patriots (15-2) their first loss since a season-opening setback to Gwynedd Mercy Academy. GA only lost two sets during that 15-match winning streak, both came in a 3-2 victory in the second meeting with the Irish.

The turnaround came in the fourth set. With Notre Dame trailing, 12-7, Sheridan called a timeout to settle his team down. It was the break the Irish needed. Notre Dame rattled off eight of the next 10 points to take the lead for good.
Rae, who finished with 36 assists, had a couple of aces in that stretch. Shannon Quigley pounded two of her 14 kills.

Junior Allison Hendrick (18 kills) also played a key role in the comeback. Once the Irish took the lead in the fifth set, all that was left was the celebration, which was wild, and more than made up for a second-place finish in the Inter-Ac League.

“This is so sweet,” Quigley said. “It’s the last game I’m ever going to play and something I’ll remember forever.”
“We wanted this so much,” Haas said. “We felt this was our game and to win this championship three times with this group of seniors is just amazing.”

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