By Jeremy Balan
Senior night for the St. Ignatius girls’ volleyball team was supposed to highlight the solid core of seniors that led the school to its first Central Coast Section title in school history last season.
Instead, it was a pair of underclassmen from visiting rival Sacred Heart Cathedral that spoiled senior night for the Wildcats, handing them a 25-12, 20-25, 25-21, 25-23 loss on Tuesday night.
The Irish (22-6, 2-3) got a team-high 14 kills apiece from freshman middle blocker Madison Murtagh and junior outside hitter Courtney Wong to put the Wildcats (19-9, 2-3) away, and also pulled even with St. Ignatius in the West Catholic Athletic League standings.
“We’re all really good friends and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without each other,” Murtagh said. “We brought our heart into this [match] and it gives us a lot of energy [going forward].”
Murtagh, who stands at 6-foot-1, was also a force on defense, notching a match-high four blocks.
“She was a beast,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “It gives us hope for the future and our setters did a great job of finding her. She was getting smarter as the match went on. This was her biggest match and she just looked unflappable.”
Murtagh’s presence also impacted the way the Wildcats operated on offense.
St. Ignatius senior outside hitters Maria Kemiji-McDonald and Claire Healy had 15 and 12 kills, respectively, but the Wildcats’ middle blockers, which are such a key to their offensive balance, only totaled nine kills.
After a slow start where she only recorded one kill in the first game, Kemiji-McDonald was the main offensive threat for the Wildcats throughout.
“Maria is a senior and she thrives in these situations,” St. Ignatius coach Michelle Rybka said. “She showed a lot of leadership and a lot of maturity.”
The Irish back row also played a part in frustrating St. Ignatius, extending several rallies with athletic and resilient defense.
“They’re a scrappy team and strong defensively, and that type of play is difficult to come back from on those long rallies when you don’t convert the point,” Rybka said.
WCAL teams only play one rotation through the league, so this will be the only regular-season matchup between the two teams, but like last season, both coaches expect at least one more meeting in the league and CCS playoffs.
“It’s never easy [to bounce back from a loss like this]. It’s senior night. It’s Sacred Heart,” Rybka said. “Luckily for us, this isn’t close to the end of our season. We’re hoping to see them again, absolutely.”