By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
With the prospect of a straight-sets defeat staring them in the face Monday against rivals Bishop O’Connell, the Bishop Ireton volleyball team needed to dig deep.
Cardinals middle hitter Tori Patacsil won the third set for her team with a resounding block on an attempted O’Connell kill and let out a huge roar, joined by a strong home crowd at Godley Gym and her delighted teammates.
And while the 25-23 third-set win wasn’t enough to prevent the Knights winning the match 3-1 as they took the decisive fourth set 25-19, it gave the hosts hope for the rest of the season. The Cardinals’ record stood at 15-3 at the time of writing.
“We started playing our game [in the third and fourth sets],” said Ireton head coach Kathy Gutmann. “When we play steady and don’t go after quick points and then drop back, we can hang with most teams. That’s what we did.
“Our blocking, which has been one of our strengths all season, had a tough time adjusting to the power of their hits. When we did in set three, it turned the match around. It was sort of like a tale of two matches.”
Claire Farrell led the way for the Cardinals with 11 kills at right side hitter, while Patacsil added 6 kills of her own. But outside hitter Maxine Friedman made the difference for the Knights, leading all players with 17 kills. O’Connell improved its record to 19-2, including an 8-0 clip in Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are 7-2 in WCAC competition, good for third place in the conference standings.
“I knew this was going to be a tough match coming in, because O’Connell has made some adjustments this year
and put out their two best hitters,” Gutmann said. “I’d probably say they’re among the best hitters in our conference. I thought they played a really good game.”
The visitors cruised to an early 2-0 lead after winning both sets 25-13, but Ireton roared back in the subsequent two sets. After winning the third, Ireton kept pace in the fourth and had an opportunity to force a deciding fifth set.
But after the Cardinals went on a 4-0 run to cut the deficit to 23-19, O’Connell regained its composure and finished things off with Friedman’s final kill of the night on match point. Gutmann said the team could take plenty of lessons from the game against one of the best teams in the region.
“When we play steady, control the ball, then we do very well,” she said. “When we start playing [at] the other team’s tempo, we’re not able to maintain that. … When we do, we can compete with anybody in the conference. We’re the top three in the conference, and [O’Connell head coach Mehdi El Alaoui is] just running a faster offense, so we have to be able to play to that.”
The Cardinals returned to action Wednesday after the Times’ print deadline at Holy Cross in another WCAC matchup. With about a month left in the regular season before conference playoffs and a possible run in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association state tournament, Gutmann said the team is capable of finishing high in
the WCAC standings and making an impact statewide.
She said Ireton has great potential, but has a number of things to work on as the season wears on.
“I think they’re capable of doing it when we play our game,” Gutmann said. “We’re reminding them they need to stay positive with each other, they need to cheer for each other and they need to let the last play go when they make a mistake. They’ve got to forget it rather than be still thinking about it. That’s one of the things we still have to do.”