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St. Catharine makes history

At the start of the season, the question around St. Catharine Academy was if it could match or even exceed the 2005 volleyball team, the program’s best ever. Now it’s if the 2009 Crusaders are the most accomplished team in CHSAA Archdiocesan history.

By sweeping Archbishop Molloy in the semifinals Sunday, SCA became the first Archdiocese team to ever advance to a CHSAA Class A state tournament final. The Crusaders fell to Kellenberg (L.I.), 15-25, 25-16, 25-18, 18-25, 25-16, but their place in history was sealed.

“I never really thought of it like that,” coach Melissa Rosso said. “These girls work so hard. They 100 percent deserve it. I have no words. I didn’t even think about that.”

Rosso thought her team could have beaten Kellenberg, which defeated Bishop Kearney in the semis, after coming back from a 3-1 deficit to force a decisive fifth set.

“The third game they were a little more nervous,” the coach said. “The fourth game it was do or die. It was a tough loss, but I’m really proud of them. … We went to five games. I don’t think Kellenberg thought that would happen.”

Rosso was a senior on the 2005 team that advanced to the semis . Her sister, Alessandra, was the team’s star outside hitter this year. But, the coach said, sometimes brilliant senior setter Lauren Paylor gets lost in the shuffle.

“The hitter always gets the spotlight,” Rosso said. “I’ve been there. I’m a setter. … She has the toughest position on the court. Her leadership and play has dominated the team for four years now. Without Lauren there wouldn’t be a CHSAA Archdiocesan No. 1 team. She tells me where the holes are. She’s the smartest player in the league.”

Although St. Catharine has cemented its dynasty, it’s also the end of an era. The special senior class is graduating and Rosso, who will graduate Manhattan College in the spring, plans on stepping down.

Who will take over the two-time Archdiocesan champs? That’s still up in the air. Rosso said if the school can’t find anyone, she’ll return. Her older sister, Jennifer, coached SCA until that 2005 team. They might just keep it in the family again.

“[Alessandra] is thinking about it,” Melissa said. “Don’t rule her out yet.”

No matter who the coach is, St. Catharine will be adding banners to the small, all-girls school’s gym. To Rosso, there’s no doubt about the 2009 Crusaders’ legacy as the Archdiocesan’s most successful squad.

“We are,” she said. “We’re the best. We’re undefeated and went to the finals.”

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