The final hurdle toward back-to-back titles proved to be the biggest challenge for Bellarmine Prep. Getting pushed to five sets for the first time all season, the Lions outlasted Curtis 25-22, 18-25, 25-17, 19-25, 15-9 in the 4A state volleyball championship on Nov. 16 at Saint Martin’s University to win the crown for the second straight year.
“This was the right team to do it with, if any,” said Bellarmine Prep head coach Jody DeGroot. “These girls had to do a lot of work, not just working on the court every day but they had to work with their heads a lot. Those little things pay off.”
Narrows 4A MVP Courtney Schwan was again the catalyst for the Lions, finishing with a team-high 25 kills. But she was matched, and then some, by Vikings senior outside hitter Janell Sparks, who kept Curtis in the match with 32 kills.
The Vikings embraced the challenge against the state’s top team from the start, blocking Schwan’s shot to take a 12-11 lead in the first set before sophomore Camryn Buell followed with an ace. Camryn and Taylor Buell helped lead the Vikings’ defensive effort on the day, consistently diving for digs to keep plays alive.
“They were getting up every single thing we put down,” Schwan said. “It was definitely a challenge every point. It was never a one-ball kill. It’s a lot more fun that way.”
The Lions regained the lead at 17-16 in the first set on a kill by sophomore Megan Jacobsen, and Claire Martin and Emily Newberry teamed to close it with a block.
But Sparks responded in the second set, collecting three early kills to help the Vikings to a 10-5 lead, and adding five kills in the final ten points to help the Vikings close it out.
The Lions never trailed in the third set, as Jacobsen collected five of her 10 kills to give Bellarmine a 13-7 lead, and freshman McKenzie Schwan extended it to 19-11 with back-to-back aces. Martin and Newberry again ended the set with a block.
“That’s like a Division III (college) team,” said Curtis head coach Michael Miller of the Lions. “They’re awesome. Their third gear is everyone else’s fifth gear. It’s hard to keep that focus and momentum for the entire time.”
Trailing 9-8 in the fourth set, Sparks slammed three straight kills to ignite a 10-1 run to give the Vikings control, and later ended the set with a kill to even the match.
But the Lions bounced back in the final set, as Martin began with a block and a kill by Reghan Pukis quickly made it 5-1. Sparks later had three kills in the span of five points to pull the Vikings within 12-8, but Schwan responded with a powerful slam and Newberry ended the match with a block.
“Our (middle hitters) definitely lit up this match,” Schwan said. “I was very proud of them. You couldn’t stop them this match. That was wonderful.”
Martin finished with six kills and seven blocks, while Newberry added five kills and six blocks for the Lions. Senior Jessica Woodruff tallied 13 kills and a block for Curtis.