A championship that was in the making for the past few years came to fruition on Monday night, as Delaware Military Academy outlasted Archmere, 3-1, for the state volleyball title. It was the Seahawks’ first championship in any sport. Set scores were 22-25, 26-24, 25-22 and 25-19.
A record crowd of more than 2,500 filled the Bob Carpenter Center, and the building was rocking all night. At one end, Archmere students went with the blackout, and the Auks’ usual crazies were there. Behind the other end line, several hundred DMA students stretched nearly to the concourse, all wearing their dress uniforms. It was an impressive sight.
They saw four sets of crisp volleyball, marked by outstanding defense, precise passing and powerful offense. In the end, no one was more powerful than Victoria Taylor, DMA’s junior hitter who nailed kill after kill from just about everywhere on the court. Taylor received plenty of help from her teammates, including Jacqualine Shields, Natalie Lavelle, Lindsey Wolfe and the only senior, Cassie Kowalski.
Several of the Seahawks played together in Catholic Youth Ministry and have grown up together. Setter Sydney Fulton said she got her start at St. Matthew’s with Kowalski, Kirsten Longueira and Morgan Andrews. They and the rest of the DMA roster have been eyeing this moment, Fulton said.
“This is one of the greatest moments. We’ve been working three years since this whole group came to DMA. It’s like the greatest feeling because we’ve worked so hard for it,” she said. “We’re not done. We’re chasing round two.”
Lavelle said a moment like Monday night is not something she could have imagined when she began playing in fourth grade at St. John the Beloved School. “No, no, no way.”
DMA was unbeaten this season – including a sweep of Archmere – but the Auks knew their foe well and were not intimidated. Archmere led most of the first set but found itself trailing, 22-21, after a Taylor spike was blocked out of bounds. Grace Merritt got the lead back for the Auks with two straight kills, Sami Mengers nailed an ace and Zoe Akoto followed with a tip kill to give them a 25-22 win.
“We knew that we were going to have to come out strong, and DMA was going to bring their A game. We knew that we were going to have to try really hard,” said Archmere’s Kaylie Leclerc.
DMA took an early 8-2 lead in the pivotal second set, but Archmere fought back and took control. The Auks scored eight straight and 11 of 12 to go up, 21-14, and a few minutes later they found themselves with four set points at 24-20. But DMA scored the next six, with Kowalski, Taylor and Shields all contributing kills, and the Auks committed two unforced errors to end it.
Fulton said the key when the Seahawks were facing four set points was to remember what got them to the final. “We’ve worked so hard for this. We’ve given so many Sundays up, and we just need to keep working hard because this was our year.”
The teams were tied at every point between one and seven in the third before DMA went on a four-point run for the 11-7 advantage, with Fulton scoring the last point with a block. Taylor was sensational again in this set, posting (by my count) 11 kills in the frame, and the Seahawks maintained a four-point cushion at 20-16 before the Auks closed the gap to 23-22 on a kill by Jessica Casino. Kowalski then found daylight down the right side, and Taylor’s blast snuck inside the end line for the 25th point.
DMA took a 13-12 lead midway through the fourth before a mini-run increased that lead to five, and the team’s fans could smell the title. Archmere fought back again, as a dink by Mengers brought them to within one at 19-18. But the Seahawks righted the ship by scoring the next five, and after Archmere saved one match point, Shields set off a wild celebration when she knocked one inside the right sideline in front of the Auks’ bench.
“It was amazing,” Lavelle said. “We worked so hard, and we finally pulled it off. It was so worth it.”
The team appreciated the showing from their schoolmates, posing for pictures with the cadets after the win. “That means so much that you have your whole school behind you. Everyone supports each other, and it’s a really great feeling that everyone’s together,” Fulton said.
There were no tears on the Archmere side. The Auks gathered around their coach, Mary Pat Kwoka, who led them to the student section. There, the team ran through a tunnel of their schoolmates, with the coach going last. Kwoka said she was proud of her team’s accomplishments, especially since few expected the Auks to get this far.
“If there’s a better word than proud, tell me what it is because I’m more proud than ever,” she said. “This team is awesome. This team, 2015, what an amazing group of girls. We never thought we’d make the final four, and nobody thought we’d make the final two. And DMA had to work tonight to beat us. They had to work. That was our goal.”
Final statistics were not available late Monday night. DMA completed an unbeaten season at 20-0 and returns its entire roster except Kowalski. Archmere lost for just the third time against 16 wins and loses four seniors: Mengers, Casino, libero Tori Falasco and Megan Reynolds.