Players from the St. Thomas More bench rushed to the court to celebrate when the match finally ended after more than two hours.
There was reason to celebrate for the Cougars, who remained unbeaten with a 3-2 nondistrict road volleyball victory over St. Joseph’s Academy on Tuesday night.
What unfolded during the 27-29, 25-17, 25-12, 28-30 and 17-15 victory was a tale of two teams displaying grit and determination.
“I expected that,” St. Thomas More coach Jessica Burke said. “They’re a great defensive team, and they pick up a lot of balls.
“They also ran a lot of things through the right side, which we had trouble defending tonight. We need games like this. We need adversity, and we need to be tested.”
Catherine Aillet led the way for STM (9-0) with a match-high 24 kills, 16 digs and four aces. Setter Avery Breaux added 61 assists and 20 digs, while Victoria Landry contributed 39 digs.
It was all about the defense for SJA (6-3). Melanie Miller had 41 digs, while Elise Gasperecz (28) and Alexis Toney (24) did their share to scoop up powerful shots sent over the net by several St. Thomas More hitters. Gaspercz had 13 kills and 17 assists, while Sydney Meaux added 21 assists.
“There were some things I wasn’t pleased with,” SJA coach Sivi Miller said. “There are times when we need to play smarter. But the effort was there. I like this group, and I think it shows the potential they have.”
The game looked as much like a science experiment for the teams. St. Thomas More has designs on a Division II state title. Though St. Joseph’s Academy graduated a large group of starters from its team that won a Division I title in 2013 and was the runner-up in 2014, much is expected.
St. Joseph’s notched its own notable road win a week earlier by beating defending Division I champion Mount Carmel. So it wasn’t a great surprise when the Redstickers rallied and won the first set.
The next two sets were controlled by St. Thomas More. After garnering that 25-12 win in Set 3 the possibility of a 3-1 Cougars win seemed quite possible. STM took an early 4-1 lead in the fourth set.
That’s when St. Joseph’s displayed its scrappy, never-say- die attitude. The Redstickers pulled ball after ball up from the court and fought back to tie it at 16 before STM raced ahead 22-17. Two blocks by Erin Landry and a kill by Gasperecz got SJA back in the game literally.
Miller contributed a key ace. Hannah Beene and Elizabeth Landry also had kills. An STM error was the final point as SJA prevailed.
St. Joseph’s grabbed the lead in the final set. Soon the two teams were back at it, matching points. Morgan Vincent, who finished with nine kills, had a kill and a block that helped the Cougars gain the final advantage.
Aillet had a key kill to help close it out for STM.
Gasperecz praised her team’s togetherness and effort, a sentiment expressed by another player.
“We were in it together, and we pulled it out,” Breaux said. “That was the biggest thing.”