The dancing and cheering began even before for Cardinal Spellman even before the final point.
The Pilots hadn’t beat rival Preston in volleyball since 2011 and they could sense that was going to change with a five-point lead midway through the fifth and deciding set. Preston didn’t make it easy, but the Spellman bench erupted when Panthers’ star freshman Julia Menocal’s hit the ball into the net to give the Pilots the win.
The Preston players rushed the floor and leapt into each others arms to celebrate a hard fought 16-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11, home victory over Preston in CHSAA Bronx/Westchester Class A girls’ volleyball last Friday. The win moved to two into a tie for third place in the division after Preston won the first meeting in straight sets. The joy of finally breaking through against Panthers overwhelmed the Spellman players afterward.
“I wanted to cry,” senior Kaylin Fitzpatrick said. “On the verge of tears, it is an indescribably feeling.”
Spellman coach Jeri Faulkner knew her team had the talent to put forth a performance like this, but lacked confidence in themselves. Fitzpatrick and sophomore setter Nicole Hill admitted that in the past their team might have crumbled after losing the first set. Instead they were carried by the energy of the home crowd and the emotion of the junior varsity team winning before them. Spellman twice rally from a set down.
“We kept pushing each other and it wasn’t a give up kind of game,” Hill said.
Senior Nia-Ceri Young led the way with 14 kills. Fitzpatrick added 12 and was Spellman’s most consistent server. Hill had 24 assists and three kills. Kendra Dawson recorded 24 digs to help slowed down the Preston attack. It was Young who changed the tone of the game in the second set by helping Spellman control the net.
She recorded a huge kill with the Pilots up just a point late in the second set. It gave Spellman a 19-17 lead. It was either team’s first two-point advantage since Preston lead 10-8. She made it 20-18 shortly after and the Pilots never looked back.
“She decided to do what she needed to do all year,” Faulkner said of the three-year varsity player.
Preston on the other hand didn’t play like it has all season long. Coach Joel Sanchez felt the road environment and a tight rivalry match got to his young club. The 6-foot-3 Menocal played well at times and senior Victoria Rivera was excellent in the back row and setting. The Panthers have just three seniors on the roster and were making uncharacteristic error throughout the match.
“We have so many younger player, in crunch time is when they make the most mistakes,” he said.
The Spellman players and coaches left no mistaking how important this victory was to them and the program with the joy and smiles on all their faces afterward.
“It’s been a few years since we beat Preston,” Faulkner said. “You’d think we won the championship.”