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Crusaders sweep Preston

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Alessandra Rosso remembers St. Catharine Academy’s 2005 season well. She wasn’t on the school’s girls volleyball team yet, she was still in eighth grade. But her sister, Melissa, played and Alessandra was the Crusaders’ pseudo manager. She had a front row seat as SCA played in the CHSAA Class A state title match.

“I chased around that group,” Alessandra said. “I was their biggest fan. I never saw that level of play before. It was amazing.”

Four years later, Alessandra and her teammates – with Melissa as their head coach – are on the verge of topping 2005 as the best year in school history.

St. Catharine beat Preston, 25-18, 25-11, 25-16, at home Wednesday in CHSAA Bronx/Westchester Division I girls volleyball. It’s the first time since the 2005 campaign that SCA (12-0) had swept Preston (8-2) and the victory puts the Crusaders in fine position to finish the league season undefeated.

A division title would be St. Catharine’s second straight – a feat Melissa and assistant coach Alana Marcello didn’t accomplish when they played.

“I hope so,” Alessandra said of surpassing the 2005 team. “I really do.”

SCA dominated Preston with its service game. In every set there was a stretch in which the Panthers were rendered helpless by the Crusaders’ serves.

With St. Catharine up 18-14 in the first set, Octavia Paylor went on a 6-0 service run to put things out of reach. Amarilda Shkoza finished it five points later with a kill. Shkoza had her own 6-0 service run, with SCA up 15-8, in the second set.

When they were up 2-0, though, the Crusaders didn’t let up. Last year against Preston, St. Catharine had a two-set lead at home and let it slip away. The Panthers eventually won, 3-2, in a heartbreaker.

“That was in the back of everyone’s mind,” Melissa said.

Despite the gravity of the win, there wasn’t much celebration on SCA’s side of the net. Alessandra pulled Paylor into a hard embrace, but that was about all.

“I’m not trying to get too excited,” setter Lauren Paylor said. “We still have a long season to go.”

Shkoza had 10 kills, Alessandra Rosso had eight kills and Lauren Payor had 21 assists. Grace Kingsley had five blocks and Charlayne Hurlington added four for the Crusaders.

“These girls don’t take anything for granted,” Marcello said.

The division title isn’t in the bag yet and there’s still the CHSAA Class A tournament. St. Catharine didn’t make it past the first day last year – it was the team’s first time seeing that level of competition. That has changed now. SCA played Mary Louis, Archbishop Molloy and Fontbonne Hall, some of the CHSAA’s top teams, early in the season and will play in the loaded Francis Lewis tournament Saturday.

“I was very excited that we were invited,” Alessandra Rosso said. “That’s phenomenal.”

It’s another chance for St. Catharine to prove itself against the city’s best teams. Lewis, St. Francis Prep and Cardozo – three of the top six teams in The Post’s New York City rankings – will be competing, as will PSAL powers John F. Kennedy and Brooklyn Tech.

St. Catharine, ranked No. 5, can further solidify itself among the Big Apple’s elite. And that’s yet another thing not accomplished by the 2005 squad.

“They just really work well together,” Melissa said.

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