Delaware Military Academy has been the top-ranked volleyball team in Delaware since the preseason, but through the season’s first three weeks the Seahawks had played just three matches, none against the state’s top competition. That changed Thursday night, when DMA traveled to Padua to meet the fourth-ranked Pandas.
The Seahawks proved the rating is well-deserved, taking care of business in four sets. They seemed to get stronger as the night wore on, winning 25-21, 24-26, 25-17 and 25-14.
A packed, very loud gymnasium greeted the teams, as both schools had large groups of students on hand. Fans were standing in doorways and sitting in corners, as the match had a playoff atmosphere. It was a fitting stage for several of Delaware’s best players.
DMA junior Victoria Taylor had a big set in the first, recording several huge kills, including the one that ended the set, going left to right past the Pandas’ defense. But she was hardly the only player to step up. Her classmate, Sydney Fulton, drilled back-to-back aces at one point, as Delaware Military built up a seven-point lead at 18-11. But Padua’s all-state outside hitter, Emily Jarome, showed she is more than a frontline player, serving up three consecutive aces to help pull the Pandas to within two at 19-17. But Taylor ended a four-point Pandas run, then finished the set a few points later.
The second set produced some extremely competitive volleyball. The teams were tied 10 times before Padua ran off four straight to go up, 17-13, thanks in large part to the play of Lauren Mellor, who had an outstanding night. The Seahawks fought back, tying the set at 18, 19 and 20 before taking a one-point lead on an unforced error by Padua. The Pandas rebounded and held set point at 24-22, but consecutive kills by senior Cassie Kowalski sent it to extra points. Jarome and Ella Welsh blocked a kill attempt by Taylor to give their team set point again, and the Pandas won it when DMA was called for a double hit.
The Seahawks, motivated by a large student section, appeared to turn up the intensity after dropping their second set of the season. Padua stayed close for half of the third, but the tenor changed on a kill by the lefty Kowalski, who played the ball off the rafters and found an opening in the defense. DMA would score six of the next seven points, and after Padua held off two set points, Taylor crushed one down the right side to give her squad the 2-1 lead.
Padua held leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in the fourth, but Kowalski, freshman Jacqualine Shields and Taylor made sure the Pandas would not keep the advantage. Yet another Kowalski kill tied it at four, sparking a seven-point run – which ended with consecutive aces by Taylor. The Seahawks gradually stretched the lead, and Kathryn Matic finished the night with an ace.
The night featured not only outstanding hitting and serving, but fantastic defense by both teams. Balls were played off rafters, kept off the ground by fingernails and saved from going out of bounds with desperate one-handed shots.
Kowalski led a well-balanced DMA attack with 16 kills, three aces and 12 digs, while Taylor had 15 kills, four aces and 11 digs. The Seahawks (4-0) were credited with 14 aces. They play again Saturday in a tri-meet at Delone Catholic High School (Pa.) with the host and Kennard Dale (Pa.).
Jarome and senior Lauren Mellor recorded 11 kills apiece. Junior libero Maddie Judge had 29 digs, with Mellor adding 17. Padua fell to 5-2 while playing its fourth match in seven days. The Pandas return to the court Saturday at 2:30 p.m., hosting St. Elizabeth on Homecoming Weekend.