As the pivotal fifth set was drawing to a close and her team’s margin for error was erased, St. Joseph Academy senior Kirsten Barrett could still feel a sense of calm.
Her Jaguars volleyball team was trailing 13-8 and visiting rival Padua was two points away from taking the match on Aug. 31. But the seasoned Jaguars have handled pressure before, and Barrett saw one more chance for a rally.
She was spot on.
With her help from the setter position, the Jaguars’ multitude of big hitters came up with crucial points and sparked an 8-1 run that secured a 16-14 win and an overall 3-2 victory in the match.
“Looking at each other’s faces, and seeing everyone push and knowing they wanted it, I think that was the turning point,” said Barrett, who finished with 44 assists. “Everybody just came together as a team.”
Scores to each game were 25-18, 21-25, 25-19, 22-25 and 16-14 as both teams weathered each other’s momentum swings.
For the Jaguars (3-0), the win took on some added meaning. In addition to being an annual thorn in their side as a rival, the Bruins (1-4) are the defending state runners-up in Division I. It followed the Jaguars’ 3-0 win over defending Division II state runner-up Notre Dame Cathedral Latin on Aug. 24.
Not a bad start to the season for a team that features 12 returning players and has designs on making a run back to the Division I state final four, just like last year.
“We want to play these kinds of teams,” Jaguars coach Kate Latkovic said. “It’s not very fun, but we want to do it. That’s what I try to tell the team, that as much as it may seem hard and you felt like you played a bad game, this (competition) is exactly what we need.”
After a sluggish start to the first set, the Jaguars took the lead for good at 8-7 and used points by senior Cadence Shea (10 kills, 3 aces on the night) and sophomore Julliette Chandler (13 kills) at the end to secure the 25-18 win. Then a bevy of balls hit out of bounds spotted the Bruins over half of their points in the second game, and they closed out a 25-21 win to even the match.
After the Jaguars won the third set convincingly 25-19, the Bruins’ 7-2 closing run iced the fourth, 25-22, and forced one more showdown. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then seemed to be in control after a Jessica Neiman kill made it 13-8.
Shea responded with a kill to make it 13-9, then, after a Bruins timeout, freshman Annabelle Groomes scored. A miscommunication led to the Bruins hitting the ball four times on the next play, ceding another point, then Shea served up an ace and Groomes, playing more like a veteran than a freshman in her third varsity match, scored again to tie it at 13.
“Our coach pushes us a lot at practice, so we’re used to these situations,” Barrett said. “As a team, we have that clicking point. On our shoes, it says ‘purpose’, so looking there, and knowing it’s in our hearts to keep pushing, it’s all there. We just knew (we could come back).”
Down 14-13, Groomes and Maxine Springer scored back-to-back points to give the Jaguars their first lead, then Barrett won the match with a push shot over the net that caught the Bruins off guard.
“Our team, you can just rely on them all the time,” said Groomes, who finished with 9 kills and 2 blocks. “We stay calm, we stay cool, we stay collected, and if you’re feeling stressed on the inside, you can look at one of them and they’ll slap you on the butt and you just feel better and you know you’re going to make it and you’ll push hard.”
Neiman led the Bruins with 21 kills and Hannah Hosford had 45 assists.
The Jaguars will look to continue their hot start to the season this week with a match at home against Gates Mills Gilmour Academy on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., followed by a trip to Toledo St. Ursula Academy at noon on Saturday.
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