ROANOKE - Saint Catherine’s volleyball team knew it was up against a tall order in facing top-seeded Flint Hill in the VISAA Division 1 state championship match on Saturday afternoon at Roanoke Catholic. The Huskies entered the match as two-time defending state champions with a nearly pristine record of 30-1 this season, the only loss coming in the final of a tournament in New Jersey. The Huskies had not dropped a single set in any of their other matches, including in their 2-0 victory over the Saints back in September.
The Saints, however, were not to be intimidated as they took a thrilling first set with a 26-24 win.
But ultimately, Flint Hill’s superior size began to take control and the Huskies won the final three sets to claim their third straight title (24-26, 25-9, 25-19, 25-22).
Saints head coach Skip Weston said he was proud of his team’s effort against what was widely considered a heavily-favored opponent.
“[Flint Hill] has had a great season and we knew it would be difficult with how much size they have,” Weston said. “Our goal was to win one set, which we did right away, and then we just kept battling.”
The seniors graduating from this year’s squad were all freshmen when Weston first took the job.
“At least four of the girls have been with me all four years here, “ he said. “We’ve taken baby steps from the first year up until the state finals today, and I’m just pleased that I had the opportunity to coach them. They’re a special group.”
The first set was a virtual dead heat throughout, as the first 11 points of the game alternated between the teams and neither was able to climb ahead by more than four points. The Saints held a slim lead at 23-21, only to see the Huskies reel off three straight to go for set point at 24-23. Saint Catherine’s stood firm, however, and junior setter Quinn Menger (Powhatan) delivered back-to-back solid serves to help clinch the set, 26-24. Menger, who finished with 26 assists and 3 blocks, said the team was well-aware of their underdog status - and that caused them to play one of their better matches of the year.
“Honestly it felt like we played with a chip on our shoulder today,” Menger said. “We didn’t make as many mistakes as [Flint Hill] probably expected and we were really fired up after winning the first set - that was our goal coming in.”
The Huskies quickly responded with a dominant showing in the second set, at one point winning 16 of 18 points to even the match at one set apiece.
The third set more closely resembled the first, as the teams battled closely throughout and the score was tied at 18-all. But Flint Hill went on another of its strong runs and won seven of the last eight points to take the set 25-19.
The Saints in the fourth set continued to fight even after losing 10 straight points to fall behind 11-6. The team clawed back to tie things at 17-all, but the Huskies used their advantage in size up front to finally put the match away at 25-22.
Senior Libero Claire Ellis (Goochland) spoke to how she enjoyed getting to be part of the team as it progressed and improved each of her four seasons. Ellis recorded 15 digs and an ace in the championship match.
“Our team is so close - there are only 12 or 13 of us, so we’re really tight-knit,” Ellis said. “It’s been so nice to be able to come to practice with this team after a bad day at school because we truly are like a family.”
The Saints, seeded no. 2 in the VISAA Division I state tournament, reached the final by defeating no. 7 Norfolk Academy (25-20, 25-11, 25-15) in the quarterfinals and no. 3 Bishop O’Connell (25-20, 25-17, 23-25, 25-15) in the semifinals. Menger had 3 kills, 1 ace, 6 digs and 31 assists vs. Norfolk Academy and 8 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, 7 digs and 41 assists vs. Bishop O’Connell.