Before the start of the fifth and final game of its IAAM A Semifinal match with St. Paul’s, the host Archbishop Spalding volleyball team was loose and laughing on the sidelines.
Why did the players have smiles on their faces? Well, the Cavaliers had battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the contest with the visiting Gators.
Spalding jumped out to a big lead in the final game and held off a “scrappy” St. Paul’s team, 18-25, 25-27, 25-19, 25-20 and 15-9 on Thursday afternoon.
“Between the second and third games, we were sitting there saying ‘we want this so bad.’ We came to the conclusion that we can’t just want it, we have to take it,” said hitter Jamie Rombach. “After every point, we just said to each other that we have to keep taking it.”
Rombach had 30 digs, 20 kills and 17 assists for the second-seeded Cavaliers (17-1 overall). Outside hitter Kristen Seeba added 26 assists, 18 digs and 16 kills, while setter Katie Gaziano contributed 16 digs, Nikki Hurley went 19-for-21 serving and had 63 digs in the marathon match. Jen Iacaruso, recently called up from JV, went 10-for-10 serving. Jordan Lawson also had 12 kills.
Senior middle hitter Katherine Gill had 15 kills to lead the Gators (14-3). Junior hitter Kabria Haskins contributed 14 kills while Alex Makar, Carina Thunell and Hailey Fitzgerald each had four kills. Fitzgerald also had 37 assists while Sarah Bowman added 28 digs.
Spalding didn’t start the way that it had hoped but continued to plug away.
“We just played as a team and we played to win,” Gaziano said about coming back. “When we had that mindset and all of our spirits were high, we just played together and did our best.”
Behind the serving of Seeba (three aces), the Cavaliers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first game before the Gators came roaring back. St. Paul’s had a 19-15 advantage before Spalding powered back to 19-18 behind a kill and an ace by Rombach and a kill by Seeba.
But a block by Gill and the service of five straight points by Fitzgerald, the Gators closed out the first game.
After trailing 22-18 in the second game, St. Paul’s battled back to tie the game at 25-25. Haskins returned a ball that was hit into the net by Spalding and an ace by Melanie Blank gave the Gators to second game, 27-25.
Trailing two games to none, coach Romback had a message for his team:
“I said ‘we have three more games to play.’ I told them that we have yet to lose in this house and we’re not going to. We haven’t lost a fifth game yet this year and I said ‘we’re not going to start now.’”
Back-to-back kills by Rombach and Lawson gave Spalding the third game and Rombach’s consecutive points handed the home team the fourth game to even the match.
“After the third game, we just had a total attitude change,” said Seeba. “We pumped ourselves up and won, we really wanted it.”
St. Paul’s fought from behind in that fifth set, closing the score to 13-11 after a Haskins kill but the Gators never got closer than those two points for the rest of the match.
“I thought today’s game was well played on both sides,” said St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkenson. “I am really proud of my kids. I would have never thought in a million years to expect us to be where we are. We’re a very defensive team and we play well together, and that is what has carried us as far as we are.”
She added: “Spalding just has a little more fire power than we do and that catches up with you in the end.”
Spalding will advance to face top-seeded Mount de Sales at Roland Park on Saturday, 7 p.m. The Sailors handed the Cavaliers their only loss of the season about a month ago in three games.
“Mount de Sales beat us in three games that last time and I think in that first game, we were in a little bit of an awe of them because we watched them warm-up and saw those big hitters,” said coach Rombach. “In the second game, we played them a little tougher and in the third game, it was a 26-24, close game. If we play at that level, with that intensity and not be in awe of them, I think we should be able to give a good match.”
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