By Jeremy Balan
With a brand-new lineup and a host of underclassmen, it wasn’t a single star that led Sacred Heart Cathedral’s girls volleyball team to a 25-18, 25-14, 25-17 road win against Mercy High School on Thursday — it was truly a team effort.
The Irish (3-0) offense was as efficient as it was diverse, featuring eight different hitters recording kills, led by a match-high eight from junior outside hitter Courtney Wong.
“We don’t really have any superstars, so we have to move the ball around,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “It’s balance, and when somebody has a bad night, it doesn’t kill you.”
As versatile as the Irish offense was, it was the defensive effort that extended their rallies. Sacred Heart tallied 11 point-scoring blocks on the night, led by four from senior Danielle Westerman, and got touches on countless other Mercy attacks, freeing up easy digs for its back line.
“They were banging through our block in the beginning, but we made some adjustments and we’re really happy about that,” Beima said. “We want blocks, but one of the things we really work on is getting touches to slow it down, so we can run down the dig.”
The Irish defense lived up to that strategy, and fed the offense off 12 digs from senior Michelle Hines and 11 from junior Amanda Lee.
While the Irish flourished, the Skippers (1-1) struggled to get in sync throughout, and standout senior outside hitter Courtney Sabahi was held to just a single kill in each of the three games. Fellow senior Monica Garrett picked up some of the slack with a team-high six kills, but was also held down at times by the Sacred Heart block.
“It’s a mental game and we need to have that confidence to work as a team. That’s where we’re lacking,” said Mercy head coach Locke Chin. “They have the capability and I’m sure they’re going to get better. They just need court time.”
Another key player for the Irish was a big part of their block, but also carries some name recognition.
Freshman middle blocker Madison Murtagh, the younger sister of former Sacred Heart standout and current University of San Francisco sophomore Mackenzie Murtagh, started for the Irish and was an all-around threat, scoring six kills, three blocks and three aces on the night.
“She’s got a big smile all the time, looked like she was having so much fun,” Beima said. “She was a beast in the second game. In the first rotation, she finished the first five points. She belongs on the court. She’s earned it.”
Both coaches relished the opportunity to play solid competition so early in the season, with the Irish preparing for the brutal West Catholic Athletic League and the Skippers jumping up to the Foothill Division of the West Bay Athletic League.
“We’re in the WCAL, so every time you think you’re doing well, you get your teeth kicked in by a league opponent,” Beima said. “We’re just working to get better, but we’re excited to see what they can do.”