By Jeremy Balan
At the start of every game of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Northern California Division III girls volleyball title matchup against visiting Albany, the Irish looked every bit like a champion.
Unfortunately for the Irish, they just couldn’t hold on.
Sacred Heart held early, sizable leads in every game, but could not close out Albany in a heartbreaking 27-25, 25-19, 17-25, 23-25, 15-11 loss on Tuesday night.
“You gotta tip your hat to Albany,” said Sacred Heart head coach Margi Beima. “You can look at it like we gave up those leads, but they really clawed their way back.”
In the first game, the Irish (32-8) surrendered a 14-6 lead, in the second it was 13-4, and in the deciding fifth, it was 7-3.
“It’s been our trademark all season,” said Albany head coach Roger Worsley. “We stay composed. We’ll go five, four, three [games], whatever. It’s nothing we’re not prepared for. That’s what we play for.”
After dropping the first two games and rallying back for a 25-17 win in the third, it was the Irish that showed the ability to come back.
Sacred Heart opened up leads of 5-2 and 7-4 in the fourth, but Albany (36-6) took the lead at 9-8, and extended it, at its peak, to 22-18.
But the Irish went on a 7-1 run to end the game, spurred by two kills and a block from freshman middle blocker Madison Murtagh.
In the fifth, the Irish again jumped out of the gate, but Albany closed in and after the Cougars tied the game at 7-7, the teams were locked in four ties, the last at 11-11.
Albany then went on a 4-0 run to close out the match.
“We had to be a little bit better, but we weren’t,” Beima said.
The most significant difficulty for the Irish was hitting though and around a towering Albany front row that tallied 15 point-scoring blocks, led by seven from sophomore Amber Erahon.
“The block is who we are,” Worsley said. “Not a lot of schools out there have the size of block I have all the way across.”
Albany also had an offensive force in junior outside hitter Kyra Holt, who totaled a match-high 21 kills.
Sacred Heart was paced by a team-high 16 kills from junior outside hitter Courtney Wong, but no other Irish hitter tallied more than nine kills.
The top-seeded Irish won’t be advancing to the state championship, but Beima expressed pride in the team’s success this season.
“I don’t want to say we overachieved, but I truly believe we got the most out of the kids,” she said. “They played with such passion, heart, joy and love for each other. They had each other’s back and for that I’m proud, because they created one of the most special team environments I’ve ever witnessed.”
With so many key parts returning, the Irish also have a bright future.
“Do I have lineups in my head already for next year? Yeah, I do,” Beima said. “I’m a still a little heartbroken. I really wanted it for this team.”