By Jeremy Balan
Sacred Heart Cathedral’s girls volleyball team played stellar defense all night against visiting rival St. Ignatius in the West Catholic Athletic League playoffs and the deciding fifth game was no exception.
With the score tied at 7-7 in in the fifth, two consecutive blocks from junior outside hitter Sarah Jones sparked a 5-0 Irish run that was ultimately the difference in a 25-18, 21-25, 25-14, 24-26, 15-10 win.
The Irish (28-7) combined for 14 blocks in the match, led a match-high six from freshman Madison Murtagh, and got stellar play from their back row.
“We put up a pretty good block, but they have great hitters, so our defense has to outdefend them to beat a team with an offense like that,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima.
The Irish also got solid offensive efforts from junior Courtney Wong and senior Danielle Westerman, who had 15 kills apiece, but didn’t shy away from spreading the ball around, as Jones added eight kills and senior Stephanie Lee tallied nine.
“We move the ball around to find out who is hot, because it’s not always the same person,” Beima said. “It’s good for us, because we don’t need to rely on one or two superstars to do everything.”
As solid as the all-around play was from Sacred Heart, the most dynamic player on the floor was St. Ignatius senior middle blocker Michellie McDonald-O’Brien, who had a match-high 17 kills and was dominant at times on the block.
She only recorded five point-scoring blocks, but altered countless Sacred Heart attacks and during several rallies, denied multiple Irish hitters.
“She’s explosive, she’s aggressive, she’s positive, she’s competitive, she’s supportive, she’s an all-around great teammate and athlete,” said St. Ignatius head coach Michelle Rybka. “She’s a great girl to have on your team.”
After a third game that was entirely controlled by the Irish, the Wildcats (24-12) appeared to seize momentum in the fourth, when they erased a five-point Sacred Heart lead to take the game 26-24.
“We recognized we had some great moments in this match, but it’s important for us to look forward to [Central Coast Section] playoffs,” Rybka said. “We need to make that our focus.”
The defending Division III CCS champs will have to wait for the playoff brackets to come out on Sunday, while the Irish will take on league undefeated and top-seeded Presentation of San Jose on the road in the WCAL semifinals Wednesday.
The Irish lost their regular-season match to Presentation 25-22, 25-16, 25-14 and the Panthers (33-1) are regarded by many as one of the top programs not only in the state, but in the country.
“There’s no way we can knock off a team like [Presentation] without being aggressive,” Beima said. “We can’t be timid and have to try to take them out of their system. We’ve been working on some things, but we have to be pretty darn good. They play insane defense, too. I thought our defense was good until I saw Presentation.”