Early in the preseason, St. Elizabeth volleyball coach James Phillips said his team was seeking an identity. Saturday afternoon, in the season opener, he may have found an answer.
The Vikings (1-0) fought back from five down in the first set, cruised to victory in the second, and withstood a spirited rally in the third as they defeated Caesar Rodney at the St. E Center. Set scores were 25-23, 25-10 and 25-22.
St. Elizabeth brought a well-rounded game, particularly serves. The Vikings scored point after point on aces and service winners, as Caesar Rodney (0-1) struggled for much of the afternoon with its receiving. In the first set, junior Alyssa San Diego ripped off three straight aces in the midst of a six-point Vikings run that turned an 11-5 deficit into a tie. Later in that same set, the Riders had taken a 20-16 lead on an ace of their own, from freshman Chloe Mangubat, but that was short-lived.
The St. Elizabeth comeback began on a service error by the Riders, giving the serve to Vikings senior Elisa Hackendorn. She ripped off six consecutive aces to give her team a 23-20 advantage. After a timeout, CR tied it on an ace by junior Lynsy Gruwell, but sophomore Alexis Lee announced her presence with a kill to take it to set point, then a block to end it.
The second set was all Vikings. A blast by Hackendorn gave the hosts a 6-2 lead, and after the Riders gained a point, St. Elizabeth’s senior libero Morgan Zebley took the serve and led her team on an 11-point run. Caesar Rodney clawed back a bit, led by the serving of Mangubat, but the Vikings put this one away early. Junior Kailee Gautier ended the second with a big block.
The Vikings led by five at 15-10 in the third, but the Riders began to handle the St. E serves and fought back. They chipped away, scoring on aces by Mangubat and junior Shivani Modi, a kill by sophomore Sara Cessna and a team effort to block a kill shot by Lee. Phillips burned a timeout when CR knotted the score at 22, and St. Elizabeth ran the table. Senior Karli Cathell finished the match, fittingly, with back-to-back aces.
Hackendorn said the volleyball team was happy to keep the winning feeling going at St. Elizabeth this weekend, following the football and boys soccer teams. “It feels amazing. I’m so excited. The team, we had the energy, we kept it up. The attitude was amazing, and we all just played so hard. No one ever gave up.”
Hackendorn led the victors with seven kills, seven digs and those six aces. Cathell had six kills, and Lee and junior Kailee Gautier recorded five each. Lee also was credited with five blocks. Caesar Rodney’s statistics were not available Saturday night.
St. Elizabeth travels to Ursuline for its next contest, which is Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. The Riders also play Tuesday when Indian River visits for a 5 p.m. start.