Notre Dame players react to defeating St. Ursula in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference match Thursday evening. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Notre Dame spotted visiting rival St. Ursula a 1-0 lead in games before storming back with a vengeance and taking a 22-25, 25-14, 25-14, 25-18 victory Thursday night, clinching at least a share of its second straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference volleyball title before a raucous, sold-out home crowd.
The Eagles (17-3, 6-0 TRAC), Ohio’s ninth-ranked Division I team and a regional finalist last season, need to win their conference finale at Whitmer to secure an outright championship.
IN PICTURES: Notre Dame 3, St. Ursula 1
“This is the first time in about a decade that we beat them in our building, so that was special,” Eagles coach Jeff Pitzen said. “Beating them last year and this year gives a little more legitimacy to our program.”
With an impressive closing surge Eagles senior Gracie Lewis pounded down half of her 18 kills in the fourth game to lead Notre Dame on the attack. Grace Dynda had 11 kills for the Eagles, Justice Wingate had five, and Brynna Hastings added four in the victory.
Last season, after St. Ursula had beaten Notre Dame during regular-season conference play, the Eagles answered with a thrilling 3-1 match win at St. Ursula to take the TRAC playoff title, and end the Arrows’ 59-match conference winning streak.
This season, the TRAC dropped the playoff which had determined the conference winner.
“The nerves got the better of them in that first set, but I thought they eventually calmed down and got into their groove,” Pitzen said. “The rest of the match, they made it theirs.”
St. Ursula (14-5, 5-1) was led in kills by Hannah Best with 10, Mariah Paulette and Jillian Seitz had eight apiece, and Rachel Super added four for the Arrows.
“I told the girls from the beginning that this match was not going to define our season, win or lose, so I’m not looking at this as a loss,” Arrows coach Sydney Antonio said. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity to get better and make a longer state run than last year.”
In Game 1, St. Ursula never trailed after grabbing an early 3-0 lead, but had to fight off several charges from the Eagles.
A decisive stretch came on the serve of Super after St. Ursula had taken a 13-12 lead. Super followed with an ace, then served four more points as the Arrows pushed their lead to 18-12.
In the second game, it was Notre Dame reversing the momentum, jumping off to a 3-0 start and never trailing as St. Ursula unraveled.
The Arrows were still within 7-4 after an ace by Jordyn Foos before ND launched an impressive 14-4 surge.
St. Ursula seemed to right the ship approaching the midpoint of Game 3 until, once again Notre Dame grabbed the aggressor’s role and the Arrows came apart. This time, Eagles closed out on a decisive 15-5 run, capped by back-to-back aces from Jillian Shook.
“Both teams were really competitive and we just pushed through every point and came out on top,” Lewis said. “We do really well when we get on runs, and we had a couple long ones in those two games, and that just made us push harder.”
The Arrows regrouped to put up more of a fight in the deciding fourth game but, even after allowing St. Ursula to rally from down five into a tie at 15-15, the Eagles once more were dominant in the stretch run.
After Foos delivered an ace and an ND error on the attack got St. Ursula back even for the final time, the Eagles seemed to flip on a switch in cutting off the Arrows’ rally and stormed to victory with a match-ending 10-3 surge concluded by Cassi Calamunci kill.
“We had a hard time adjusting to their block in the first set,” Pitzen said, “but the girls did a nice job eventually of working around the blocks, and our defense did a fantastic job. In this game, sometimes momentum just goes your way.”