No. 11 Mount de Sales climbs out 0-2 hole to win IAAM A volleyball title; Annapolis Area Christian denies Maryvale in B finale; St. Frances repeats in C (VIDEO HERE!!)
by Derek Toney & Nelson Coffin
Trailing 2-0 in Saturday night’s IAAM A Conference volleyball title, Mount de Sales Academy looked shaken. With St. Paul’s School and its faithful riding a tsunami of momentum, the stage appeared to be big for the Sailors, who’ve been buoyed this season by a talented freshman class.
Mount de Sales weathered the storm and assembled a comeback for the ages. The No. 11 Sailors rallied for a five-set decision over the 15th-ranked Gators at Roland Park Country School.
Annapolis Area Christian School dethroned Maryvale Prep in four sets to claim the B crown. St. Frances Academy swept St. John’s Catholic Prep to retain the C trophy.
Led by several members from their two-time reigning IAAM A hoops squad, the third-seeded Panthers avenged a five-set decision to the top-seed Vikings during the regular season.
“Our plan was to dominate from the beginning,” St. Frances coach Nytearia Burrell said. “They are our favorite team to play. They just show such good sportsmanship, but I thought we were the better team.”
Burrell, a Panther basketball assistant in her first season as volleyball head, said St. Frances went “through the motions” in the first meeting against St. John’s Catholic in Frederick. The east Baltimore school were fully engaged Saturday.
Sophomore outside hitter Angel Reese and her senior counterpart, Taneara Moore, led the way for St. Frances, with plenty of help from its setters, senior Nialah Taylor and sophomore Madyson Hinton, and senior outside hitter Taniya Patrick.
St. Frances led 20-17 in the second set, but five straight points, capped with consecutive aces from Paige Kamer and kills by Destiny Huskey and Erika Bealmear, put the Vikings up 22-20.
But a St. John’s service and ace from Moore brought St. Frances even at 22. Reese, a 6-foot-3 sophomore middle hitter and arguably the area’s best basketball, gave the Panthers the lead for good with a kill.
St. Frances is the first back-to-back C champ since St. John’s Catholic (2012 and 2013). The Vikings received 14 kills from Evie Matson Saturday, and Erika Bealmer added nine kills and three blocks.
Annapolis Area Christian completed a perfect league run to the B championship. Freshman Milan Gomillion finished with 13 kills for the Eagles (17-1).
In winning its 17th straight decision, Annapolis Area won its first IAAM title since 2015 (C). The Eagles moved to the B league last fall.
“We’ve been very successful the last three years,” said Annapolis Area coach Marianne Graham, whose team won all 11 B matches (including playoffs) this fall. “We’ve built our team around a solid defense and I think that’s what helps grow a program.”
The top-seeded Eagles (17-1, 11-0) rallied to take the second set, 25-18, after overcoming an early 8-2 deficit, largely on the strength of a three-kill run by freshman outside hitter Milan Gomillion.
They went ahead for good, 13-12, on a block by sophomore middle hitter Skyler Emert, who also produced another block and a kill in a sequence in which AACS started to pull away toward the win.
The Eagles went on to take the third set, 25-22, after snapping a 15-15 deadlock on a serve-receive error by the Lions. From there, an ace by junior Nicole Garner and a couple of more Maryvale mistakes padded the lead to the verge of victory at 24-19.
The Lions, though, showed their resolve by scoring three straight points on a couple of kills by Neff and an ace by junior setter Kayla Koch (29 kills) before a thunderous kill by Gomillion secured the set for AACS.
The final set was controlled early by the Eagles and their advantage eventually bloomed to 20-10 on a couple of Emert aces.
It’s the fourth IAAM title for the Anne Arundel County school, which won C titles in 2015, 2007 and 2006.
For the fifth time, Mount de Sales is IAAM A champions. It was a ginormous effort by the Academy Road school in the finale of Championship Saturday.
“We were down 0-2, but I told the girls, ‘hey, play your heart out,'” said Sailors coach Tuan Nguyen. “Just stick to the fundamentals we’ve learned and stick to the plan. It’s OK, we can still come back.”
When St. Paul’s serve sailed out for the decisive final point in the fifth set, the comeback was complete. The Sailors also finalized a perfect campaign in the IAAM A.
The path to perfection seemed headed off a cliff as St. Paul’s, which perfect IAAM A season was derailed in last year’s final, was the aggressor early Saturday. The Brooklandville school built a 23-12 lead in opening set.
The Gators jumped out to an 10-3 advantage in the second set, but Mount de Sales came to life. The Sailors climbed ahead, 20-18, on Chidinma Onukwugha’s block kill.
More of a defender, Onukwugha was the offensive catalyst for Mount de Sales’ rally Saturday. The 6-foot-1 freshman had 17 kills.
The reserved Onukwugha knew she had to raise her game.
“We needed to fight for this. We can’t lose in three in championships,” said Onukwugha. “If I got the ball, I swung as hard as I could.”
Trailing 8-7 in the third set, Mary Grace Goyena’s kill and Onukwugha’s block kill sparked a 9-0 run, giving Mount de Sales a 16-8 advantage. Onukwugha closed out the set with a kill.
“Once we lost the third set, I could feel the momentum shift,” St. Paul’s coach Kelli Wilkinson said. “And we really had no answer for (Onukwugha). Once their freshmen started to get going, you could feel their confidence growing.”
Goyena, a freshman outside hitter, found her rhythm, posting back-to-back kills as the Sailors built a 21-15 advantage in the fourth set. St. Paul’s closed to 22-18 before Mount de Sales finished off the set with Grace Jennings’ ace.
The Sailors’ momentum continued early in the decisive fifth set, racing out to a 5-1 advantage. St. Paul’s answered with a 7-1 run, but Onukwugha’s kill regained the lead for the Sailors.
They never trailed again.
Senior captain Hanna Katulski admitted the Sailors “weren’t mentally ready” Saturday, especially after sweeping Archbishop Spalding in Thursday’s semifinal round.
Mount de Sales punctuated its championship season with a gritty performance.
“I wanted to everybody to be thinking the same, making sure nothing got by us,” said Nguyen. “We just stayed together as a team…that was the most important thing.”