By Jeremy Balan
Wednesday’s non-league girls volleyball matchup between Mercy and University may have appeared to be just a run-of-the-mill pre-league game, but it turned into a showcase of what may be two of the top volleyball programs in the City.
The Red Devils’ (2-0) thrilling five-game win (21-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-15, 15-13) also showcased two elite hitters in University junior Katherine Evers and Mercy senior Courtney Sabahi.
Evers had a match-high 14 kills and three blocks to lead the Red Devils, who shook off an early 2-1 game deficit to rally for the win.
“Character is built early in the season and to have something like this happen shows that we have some composure,” said University head coach Ki Choi.
Evers, a lanky and experienced three-year varsity starter, was University’s main offensive threat throughout and had two crucial kills in the deciding fifth game.
“It was really fun. We really pushed through and everyone worked really hard for it,” Evers said. “We really knew we could do it. We have the talent. We just needed the extra effort.”
Other than the fourth game, the match was close throughout, including the final game that featured five lead changes and eight ties.
“It was the match that I expected it to be, because Mercy is always tough,” Choi said. “I love playing them early in the season, because they always give us some of the tests that we need.”
Evers went through a slight lull in the middle games, but was picked up by senior Katie Kirkland, who had 11 kills, many on quick-set strikes in the middle.
“We had good ball control to run the system and get those quick attacks,” Choi said. “It’s nice that we’re not one-dimensional with just one hitter. We have multiple players that play multiple positions that do multiple things at a very high level.”
While Evers was connecting on strikes throughout, Sabahi, a powerful left-hander, all but matched her with 13 kills, including four kills in Mercy’s five final points of the match.
“She’s an excellent player and has tremendous experience,” said Mercy head coach Locke Chin. “But she had her moments today, where she wasn’t playing very well. She knows that and that’s something she will overcome.”
Sabahi, like Evers, struggled at times during the middle games, but was picked up considerably by junior Monica Garret, who matched Sabahi with 13 kills.
Even with the loss, Chin saw the benefit of such a trying season opener for the Skippers (0-1).
“These matches, you learn from them,” Chin said. “It’s a good experience, because then when we go to league we’ll be ready. This team has a lot of talent. The skills are there. It’s just a matter of getting the butterflies out of their stomach and dealing with things they’ve never dealt with before.”