MORRIS TWP. As Gemma Henderson and the Villa Walsh volleyball team warmed up for their Morris County Tournament match on Friday, they kept a close eye on Morris Catholic on the other side of the court. The two squads had already met in the regular season, and the implications of this rematch only raised the intensity.
But the visiting Crusaders were no less pumped up, and came out very aggressively. The teams traded points, with no one able to get more than a three-point edge.
The volume in the Villa Walsh gym kept rising along with the tension, capping a 27-25, 25-11 victory for the hosts.
The 15th-seeded Vikings (8-3) had rallied their friends and fellow athletes, and they turned up en masse for the MCT match. The Villa Walsh soccer and cross country teams ended practice early so the girls could attend, as did the tennis team — and some other friends who are not athletes. It created a raucous environment in the new gym, and definitely made an impression on No. 18 Morris Catholic.
After a long rally ended with a Crusaders error, allowing the Vikings to go up 22-20, Morris Catholic coach Carlos Franco called timeout. Crusaders outside hitter Riley O’Dowd responded with a half-dozen blocks on the same play before finally putting the ball down for another point. Three Villa Walsh errors, and Morris Catholic was at game point when Vikings coach Anneliese Yombor called a timeout of her own.
Villa Walsh pulled even at 24 with on a Crusaders service error, then took a 25-24 lead on another mistake by the visitors — but quickly gave that point back. Vikings junior Maggie Pietrucha finally ended the first game with a crosscourt kill.
Buoyed by the enthusiasm, Villa Walsh quickly took the lead in the second game. Pietrucha finished with seven kills, 10 digs and two aces. Junior Sarah Cawley and freshman Mary Cate McGlone added three kills apiece for the Vikings. Gemma Henderson, the lone senior starter, had 12 assists and three digs.
“I didn’t think we did anything different,” said O’Dowd, who finished with four kills, four digs and an ace for the Crusaders (7-8).
“We had more excitement, more energy. Going into the second game with a loss, it’s hard, because people aren’t ready to win. We lost a lot of our energy in that game.”
Morris Catholic, thrilled to be at .500 after several disappointing seasons, had defeated the Vikings in three games on Sept. 15, with the decisive one coming down to 26-24. Now at home, young Villa Walsh — which regularly starts Henderson, three sophomores and McGlone — had grown from the experience. The players also drew on a close loss to Madison on Wednesday.
Villa Walsh will visit No. 2 Roxbury in the second round next week.
“We’re gelling together,” Henderson said. “Our intensity, we were more ready to play.”
Staff Writer Jane Havsy: 973-428-6682; [email protected]; http://www.dailyrecord.com/writerjane/