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St. Catharine’s beats Spellman to win first title in 8 years

Alessandra Rosso was sick of all the talk. Sure, her St. Catharine Academy girls’ volleyball team started the season as an upstart, thought of as a second-class citizen to CHSAA Bronx-Westchester Division I powers Preston and Cardinal Spellman. And yes, the Crusaders had not won a league title since 2000.

But all of that went out the window when SCA beat both of those teams. Now, after a 22-25, 25-23, 25-17, 15-5 win at Spellman in both teams’ regular-season finale Wednesday, the underdog talk is over. St. Catharine won its first division crown in eight seasons.

“I’m tired of being the Cinderella story,” Rosso said. Added sophomore Amarilda Shkoza: “We’re here to stay.”

It certainly didn’t come easily. Spellman came from 13-9 and 18-15 down in the fourth set to send the game to a decisive frame on the shoulders of senior middle hitter Pearl Mensah. She had four kills in five points to give the Falcons a 20-18 lead and two more to help extend the match.

Mensah finished with 24 kills and 14 blocks.

“Pearl is amazing,” SCA junior Lauren Paylor said.

What the Crusaders, ranked No. 5 in the FiveBoroSports.com CHSAA top 10, then did was pretty amazing, too. Instead of getting down after a discouraging set, St. Catharine came back as strong as ever. A kill by first-year player Grace Kingsley finished a dominant fifth set and sent the reserves and coaches Melissa Rosso and Alana Marcello running into the middle of the court to celebrate.

Mensah said No. 6 Spellman was so emotionally spent after the fourth-set comeback that the Falcons didn’t have much left in the fifth. Setter Julie Fuentes, who finished with 12 assists, also came up big in the penultimate set.

 “I dunno what happened,” she said. “I think we kind of fell apart, because we spent so much energy in the fourth game.”

Much like it has all season, St. Catharine just got the job done and when it was most needed. The Crusaders are far from big and intimidating: their top hitters, Alessandra Rosso and Shkoza are only 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-7, respectively. They get by with excellent fundamentals and good passing. Spellman coach Jeri Faulkner raved about setter Lauren Paylor afterward.

 “They’re not a big team,” Mensah said. “They don’t seem to do anything extraordinary. It’s just basics.”

The New York Archdiocesan playoffs start next week and the Crusaders have bigger plans on the horizon.

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