By Kevin Connelly
Neither played their best, but neither really cared, as the top two seeds in the Salem district of the Division III volleyball tournament advanced to the championship game.
Top-seeded South Range (22-2) scored the final 13 points of its match to beat Mineral Ridge 25-20, 20-25, 25-17, and 25-18, and advance to its second consecutive district final. Cardinal Mooney (21-3), the district’s second seed, knocked out tournament cinderella Crestview 25-17, 24-26, 25-18, and 25-13.
“We came here and we had a goal in mind,” Mooney coach Tony Gorvet said. “We came here to win the district.
“They refuse to lose, they pound on one another, and they have confidence in one another.”
The Cardinals were led by McKenzie Reese, who had 23 service points, and Gina Patella, who had 31 assists.
“It feels so good to get this,” Patella said. “We’re a short team, but we have a lot of heart though. We play scrappy, we play smart and that’s all you can do.”
Ahead 18-12 in the fourth game, Patella dove backwards barely making contact with the ball, but got enough under it to get it over the net. Crestview couldn’t handle the return and the point put an exclamation point on the Cardinals’ win.
“She’s a heck of an athelete,” Gorvet said. “We have great athletes and our athleticism makes up for our lack of height.”
When asked if she saw her coach jump in the air and give an emphatic fist pump after the play, Patella said no but she didn’t have to.
“I didn’t see him, but I heard him,” she said laughing. “That was all I needed.”
The win earned Mooney a rematch with South Range, who beat them 3-1 in the Cardinals’ second game of the season. A lot has changed since then, but the result is still fresh in the girls’ minds.
“I think we’ve improved every single game since then,” Patella said. “I’d love to see them in the finals.”
Patella, and Mooney, got their wish, because in the second semifinal match the Raiders used momentum and a change in facial expression to get past Mineral Ridge. The Raides were leading the match 2-1, but trailing in the fourth game 18-12, when coach Rachell Storm-Baker called a timeout.
“I made a rule that you can’t stand in the huddle or be on the bench unless you’re smiling,” Storm-Baker said. “Once I said that, I don’t know, they just kind of ran with it.”
South Range went on to win the next 13 points to close out the Rams in the fourth set.
“When it’s down to the wire, I knew it was on me to get my serve in and give them a chance to score the points,” said Madison Juillerat, who was serving during the Raiders’ run. “I just did what I had to do for my team.”
In a match that featured a number of long rallies, Jordan Youngs’ 48 digs and Ashley Shetter’s 24 were critical to their team’s success.
“Honestly I think defense wins games,” Storm-Baker said. “I think that’s what a lot of our last 13 points were about was picking up the ball.”
The first matchup between Mooney and South Range was on Aug. 22. The Raiders won 19-25, 25-19, 26-24, and 25-22.
Both coaches said they will use what happened in that game to plan for Wednesday’s district final, but also acknowledged this one will have a different feel to it.
“They’re a great team, but we’re coming in ready,” Storm-Baker said. “We’re gonna play our game and work hard.”
The Raiders are looking to become back-to-back district champions, as the two teams come in with almost identical records.
“South Range beat us the first week of the season, but it’s been eight weeks,” Gorvet said. “They’re a really good team and we’re looking forward to playing them.”