NEW CASTLE – The Aquinas Academy volleyball team has endured an interesting journey in their quest to finish the regular season undefeated.
The Crusaders took another step toward accomplishing that feat with their 3-1 win (25-17, 25-21, 23-25, 25-10) Thursday against Tall Oaks.
As been the situation for all their games this season, Aquinas (12-0) pulled out the victory on the road. Aquinas doesn’t have a gym at its school so the Crusaders practice at Central Middle School in Wilmington and play all of their games at their opponents’ schools. Most high schools typically have junior varsity and varsity volleyball players practice together, but at Aquinas, all of the fifth through 12th graders are together on the same small court for practices, which can create a unique dynamic for the Crusaders’ varsity team.
“It’s really hard to get used to,” senior Marybeth O’Hanlon said. “It’s a really big transformation. You have to change from the dimensions of each gym, but it’s a really good experience that you don’t have to get used to one place. It’s hard sometimes [practicing with different grades] because we don’t get the practice that we need, but I think it’s also good that we can help other people, not just have our practice time but help the other girls to get their practice time in as well.”
O’Hanlon said those challenges have made the Crusader’s success this season that much sweeter. One of the leaders on the team, O’Hanlon delivered an impressive performance during the win against Tall Oaks. O’Hanlon finished with 15 kills, four aces and four blocks while sophomore teammate Monica Moore also tied for the team-lead with 15 kills to complement her five aces and two blocks.
“We’ve had a lot of obstacles this year and we’ve just gotten better and better through the obstacles,” Aquinas coach Bernadette Moore said. ” … It’s really hard to be the top dog and for teams always be desiring to beat you, to be the team that everyone wants to beat, but the girls have handled it really well.”
Aquinas led for most of their Game 1 win, which featured a dominant stretch from Moore, who recorded four consecutive kills to turn a 19-16 lead into a 23-16 advantage. The Titans (5-3) didn’t let up in Game 2, building a 6-0 lead. However, the Crusaders whittled away at the lead and eventually tied the game at 12 before the two teams started trading points. Jessie Silvers’ tip kill put Tall Oaks ahead 20-18, though that would be as close as the Titans would get to winning the game as Aquinas recovered to go up 2-0. But in Game 3, Tall Oaks pulled off the late comeback, erasing a 23-21 Aquinas lead to score the next four points for the win, punctuated by an ace from Kana Turley to tie the game and then claiming the victory after consecutive errors by the Crusaders.
“I think that we kind of took our previous two wins for granted and kind of expected to win and didn’t really fight for it,” Moore said of Aquinas’ Game 3 effort. “We didn’t really play as hard as we could in that game and we didn’t focus as hard.”
Tall Oaks was poised to hold the momentum after their victory in Game 3. However, a 10-minute delay before the start of Game 4 seemed to steal that edge. The delay was caused by a rules verification. Players are allowed to play a total of five games in one day between the JV and varsity levels. One of Aquinas’ players, who was on the court to start in Game 4, had already played in two games of the JV match prior to the varsity match. After starting as Aquinas’ right side hitter in the first three games against Tall Oaks, she was ineligible to play the rest of the match with the Crusaders holding a 2-1 lead.
The lineup change didn’t appear to affect Aquinas in Game 4. They built a 16-4 lead and used a mix of aces – four of their 16 aces came in Game 4 – and well-placed kills combined with the Titans’ unforced errors to result in an easy win to clinch the match. Tall Oaks coach Beth McGarvey thought the delay might have “popped the bubble” of her team’s emotional boost it had after rallying for the Game 3 win. But overall, McGarvey was pleased by the Titans’ effort.
“This is a big game for us going into the playoffs to know that our girls, when they play their game and communicate well, that they can beat this team,” McGarvey said. ” … It was exciting to see them play to their potential and I was just really encouraged with the way they stuck in and came out on top in the third game.”
Contact Meghan Montemurro [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @M_Montemurro.