By Jeremy Balan
In a sport that relies so heavily on communication and teamwork, early-season volleyball matches can be a little bit sloppy.
Tuesday’s non-league matchup between Lowell High School and St. Ignatius was no exception, and it was the team that committed the fewest errors that was ultimately victorious.
As the match progressed the Wildcats limited mistakes and swept the Cardinals 25-25, 25-10, 25-21 on Tuesday at St. Ignatius Prep.
“In preseason, this is what it’s all about, getting comfortable in our system,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michelle Rybka. “Today was a game of errors, but they’re a scrappy team and we always had to expect the ball to come over.”
The mistakes were amplified in the lopsided second game, as the Cardinals committed 14 unforced errors in the game and allowed St. Ignatius to go on a 11-0 run.
“The second game is where you could tell who was mentally [prepared],” said first-year Lowell head coach Steven Wesley. “It was an error game. There were mistakes and tentativeness.”
In a back-and-forth first game, Lowell held leads at 22-21 and 23-22, but the Wildcats rallied for three consecutive points to claim the first frame. After entirely controlling the second, St. Ignatius only allowed the Cardinals to hold a 1-0 lead in the third before cruising the rest of the way.
Again it was the St. Ignatius seniors who settled the Wildcats down, as outside hitter Madelyn Welsh led the Wildcats with eight kills and middle blocker Michellie McDonald-O’Brien added six.
Half of McDonald-O’Brien’s kills came in the clinching third game, to go along with three blocks.
“She just has a lot of experience,” Rybka said of McDonald-O’Brien. “She’s a great kid, a great athlete and has great energy.”
Lowell got four kills apiece from senior outside hitter Reilly Fitzpatrick and sophomore middle blocker Amorelle Applin, but its greatest strength was defense. The Cardinals consistently held off St. Ignatius attacks with athletic and acrobatic digs, led by a team-high 12 from senior Chelan McGinty.
“We have to [play good defense],” Wesley said. “We’re little. We have one option, be quick on defense or get slaughtered.”
Despite the incongruous play, both coaches were satisfied with the progress of their teams early in the season.
For Lowell, which missed the Academic Athletic Association playoffs for the first time in recent history in 2010, the focus is entirely on the future.
“As a team, we’ve decided to not speak of last year,” Wesley said. “It was a lesson learned, hopefully, and there’s no excuse, with this caliber of players, to miss the playoffs.”