The 2017 season marked Casey Marcelo's 10th season as head coach. The 2017 postseason marked the Saint Ignatius volleyball team's 10th consecutive appearance in the OHSBVA State Tournament.
As it turns out, 10 is the Wildcats' lucky number.
The Volleyball Cats captured the school's first volleyball state championship in dramatic fashion, sweeping the favored Hilliard Darby Panthers, 3-0 (25-18, 26-24, 25-19). The historic evening was full of smiles for the delighted and relieved Saint Ignatius coaching staff, players, and fans.
The match represents a program-defining victory, one the Wildcats have worked towards for 10 years.
"It was about the puzzle. We put it all together," said Head Coach Casey Marcelo. "[Coach] Jacob [Layden] coming aboard, the seniors working hard and believing. We have our big hitters, JP, Danny, and Phil – it doesn't get to them if the back line doesn't pick it up. Attacking everywhere, unrelenting.
"We saw the swagger on these boys – I think it was how we beat Westerville South. We beat them decisively after close matches with them, and after going against St. X and beating them in four sets decisively, and then this, it's phenomenal. It's leadership on the coaching staff, playing our roles, and the boys believing."
As Marcelo said, the Wildcats swept Westerville South on Saturday morning in decisive fashion (25-18, 25-19, 25-16) and defeated St. Xavier on Sunday morning, 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 25-19) to pave the way to the state title match.
Characteristically, the Wildcats started out hot against Darby, believing in their ability. The Volleyball Cats built a 4-1 lead thanks to solid play up front and a pair of Darby mistakes. A block by Michals caused the Panthers to burn a timeout, trailing 6-2.
The Panthers then picked up a few points, narrowing the deficit to 8-6. The Wildcats stole the momentum back, though, rolling to a 3-0 lead thanks to the inspiring serves and backline work of John Moynihan. Darby called a timeout, but could not stem the bleeding. The Panthers struggled with Moynihan's serve work until the Wildcats missed a ball, but still in the lead, 14-7.
The Panthers, a team built on size and strength at the net, struggled at times to contend with the Wildcats' digging and blocking abilities. Darby started to adjust, though, drawing within four, 17-13 and then again at 19-15.
Fighting for every point, the Wildcats remained in the lead despite big Darby kills. Holzheimer contributed assist after assist, Michals provided a couple big kills, and Sean Getty notched 3 digs to wrap up the set, 25-18.
Once again, the Wildcats scored first. The home team on the scoreboard, Volleyball Cats took a 6-2 lead. Two of the points came off the hands of promising freshman Quinn Flanagan, one on a block and another on a kill.
After the Wildcats' run ended, the teams traded points, neither squad able to maintain the serve until James Purcell's successful serve and resulting point off Saint Ignatius kill led the Panthers to call a timeout, trailing 12-7.
Flanagan and Michals contributed wonderful kills, but Darby countered with a small run of its own. The Wildcats' lead dwindled to 14-11 before Michals again countered with a kill.
The hometown Panthers received a big charge from a corner kill after a lengthy volley, narrowing the deficit to 15-13 before Darby notched an ace and each team committed a pair of serve violations.
The Panthers finally tied the set at 17 and took its first lead of the day, 18-17. The Wildcats took a timeout to regroup after the play, but Darby's run continued. The Volleyball Cats ended the run on a kill at the net, but not before Darby built a 20-18 lead.
Catanzaro's serving ability knotted the contest at 20, leading to a Darby timeout. The break had no effect on Catanzaro, as he and his brothers added another point before Darby countered to knot it at 21. A Darby net violation and a Michals kill granted the Wildcats a narrow 23-21 lead, and then a Darby error sent it set point.
The Wildcats could not finish off the Panthers, allowing Darby to tie it at 24, but it didn't matter. A Darby violation and a beautiful Wildcats' kill that arched over the Panthers' players finished off the Panthers and granted the Wildcats a 26-24 set victory.
The Wildcats' parents and fans played a large role as a 7th man, especially in the later stages of the match. Though Darby held the home court advantage, and thus drew more fans due to the short drive from Hilliard, the Wildcats' faithful cheered just as loud, answering D-A-R-B-Y yells with C-L-E and "Let's Go Cats!" chants.
Back-and-forth play characterized the third set. The teams traded points to start the set. The Wildcats took their first lead of the set, 5-4. The Volleyball Cats mounted the largest lead for any team in the set, 11-8, leading to a Darby timeout.
The lead expanded all the way to 17-11, on the throes of the Wildcats' calm, consistent play. The Panthers, sensing their backs against the wall, called their second timeout.
Darby did manage to score a point following the break, but each Panthers' point was met with an Ignatius point, carrying the match closer to the brink. Holzheimer's cool presence with assists and the back line's ability to dig the Panthers' kill and serve attempts proved to be critical.
The Wildcats took a chance to breathe on a timeout with a 20-15 lead. Out of the break, the Panthers scored twice, but a pair of Purcell points steadied the Wildcats. All of the sudden, the Wildcats came to the match point, 24-18.
Darby scored the next point, but Michals rocketed a kill off the fingertips of Darby's front line, making history for the Wildcats.
The 8-man senior class, one of the top volleyball classes in school history, made it all possible for the Wildcats.
"Leading off with Richie, he was getting some questionable calls I would say, but he fought hard and led the team," Marcelo said. "Danny just does things that make you say, 'How the heck did that happen?' JP is an underrated middle. Sapanaro, the Gettys, Moynihan, all those guys, they're together.
"These guys brought the rest of the class together. We asked them, 'Who do you want to come up from JV?' And they said, 'We want this guy, and this guy, and this guy from JV,' and we brought them up. The seniors brought them into the fold. This is really a team."
The 2017 Saint Ignatius Volleyball Cats are certainly a team that will not soon be forgotten by Wildcats' fans and alumni. Congrats to these fine gentlemen on accomplishing a Herculean feat and making history.