By Nelson Coffin
The clash between defending conference champions Notre Dame Prep (A Conference) and Maryvale (B) on Tuesday in Brooklandville showed just how far the Lions’ program has blossomed under Missy Little.
On the other hand, the Blazers’ hard-earned 25-22, 25-19, 18-25, 23-25, 15-11 victory proved that they are not ready to give up the mantle of being the IAAM’s premier team, although Maryvale pushed the visitors to the brink before bowing.
It was that close of a battle, even after NDP jumped out early by taking the first two sets and appeared to be on the verge of sweeping Maryvale for the fourth time in a row since 2011.
That 12-set winning streak vanished quickly in the third set when the Lions ran off nine consecutive points early with junior setter Kayla Koch serving and never looked back in claiming a 25-18 verdict.
Sophomore middle hitter Claire Neff had three kills and a block during the surge.
The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair with Neff getting the Maryvale off to a 5-2 start with another block (she had seven overall) until sophomore Brooke Conway’s four consecutive aces propelled NDP back into the lead, 12-10.
The Blazers were still in the lead, 21-18, on yet another ace before the hosts rallied on a tip by senior outside hitter Taylor Cover, a Neff kill and an ace by by senior libero Issy Santini.
A rotation foul then put Maryvale ahead, 22-21, before Cover and Neff led the way down the stretch for the Lions.
Maryvale jumped ahead by two points in the final set on a Cover kill until NDP ultimately pulled away on kills by senior Erin Grace and junior Sarah Rose.
“Kudos to Maryvale,” said NDP coach Jim Isphording, who led the Blazers to their second title in three years last fall. “We knew if they won a set they would gain a lot of confidence from it. And then I thought they might put a lot of pressure on us, and they did.”
Isphording said that he switched sophomore Hannah Einbrod with senior Charlotte Frank “to give a different look” in the final set.
Frank rewarded her coach by recording three kills in a row at one point.
Little said that she was impressed with her team’s ability to give the Blazers all they could handle.
“There’s just a different vibe on this team that’s unlike any other,” she said. “There’s a good energy and they get along so well together. They really trust one another.”
She said that the way they finished the season last year in sweeping St. Mary’s in the conference final has had a positive carryover effect on this season.
“I think we should do really well this season,” she said. “We really feel comfortable going into the season and I feel comfortable with how well we’re playing right now.
Senior outside hitter Erin Shaffrey led the Lions with 14 kills, followed by Cover with 11 and Neff with six.
Junior setter Kayla Koch paced Maryvale with 16 assists, one more than freshman setter Sophie Savick.
Rose and Grace combined for 13 kills and the former had a game-best nine blocks as well for the Blazers.
Senior Megan Tomasic was a defensive stalwart for NDP, recording 31 digs while senior setter Mary Norris finished with 25 assists.