The players on the St. Catharine Academy girls’ volleyball team never thought they were going to lose. Not even down two sets in the CHSAA New York Archdiocesan championship match. Not even when the hopes of coming back against Cardinal Spellman looked bleak.
The coaches, though? They thought their run was all over.
“We felt like that,” said head coach Melissa Rosso, speaking for herself and assistant Alana Marcello. “We didn’t let them know.”
Good thing. St. Catharine’s players never gave up – star junior Alessandra Rosso and sophomore Octavia Paylor literally ran into walls for digs – and the Crusaders completed an amazing comeback to beat the Falcons, 23-25, 16-25, 25-21, 25-14, 15-13, on Sunday afternoon at Preston HS in the Bronx.
It was SCA’s first Archdiocesan title since 1997. Last week, the Crusaders won their first Bronx-Westchester Division I title in eight years, also against Spellman. Both teams will play in the CHSAA Class A state championship tournament next weekend at Spellman.
The outside hitter, who is the younger sister of her coach, had the biggest play of the match. With the score tied at 13 in the decisive fifth set, she pushed the ball deep into an open space in the Spellman back row and it just nipped the line. On the next point, Alessandra Rosso finished the Falcons with another kill. She had 12 total.
St. Catharine (14-1 CHSAA) planted the seed for its comeback in the second set. Spellman (12-3) went up 20-9, but the Crusaders chipped away before losing, 25-16. Falcons senior standout middle hitter Pearl Mensah admitted that’s where her team started to lose momentum.
SCA came on and it was like a domino effect. Spellman never recovered from mental mistakes and miscues.
“All I thought was that we just needed to push,” Mensah said. “I wanted it so badly. One person can’t want it for the whole team.”
Sophomore outside hitter Amarilda Shkoza had six kills, Lori Nash had four blocks, Juliana Veseli had 11 assists and Lauren Paylor had eight assists for St. Catharine. Mensah led Spellman with 19 kills, eight solo blocks and 17 digs, Linda McCaffrey had 28 digs, Cari English had seven aces and Sophia Ponce added 12 assists.
“They don’t ever give up,” Melissa Rosso said of her players. “I think it’s one of their best qualities.”
All season, St. Catharine has been trying to shake its underdog tag. Preston and Spellman are the two perennial volleyball heavyweights in Bronx-Westchester. But the Crusaders knew very early what they had and now they have the hardware – two championships – to prove it.
SCA is young: the Crusaders graduate only two regulars: Veseli and Nash.