With an 0-3 March in the rearview mirror, the Saint Ignatius varsity volleyball team marched in Sullivan Gym on Tuesday night with energy and excitement for the home opener and a chance at earning the first win of the year.
And oh yeah, a chance to defeat the program's rival in front of an enthused home crowd.
From start to finish, the Volleyball Cats looked electric, steaming past the St. Edward Eagles. The Wildcats downed a young Eagles squad in straight sets, 25-13, 25-13, and 25-7.
"It's fun. It's fun in any sport to beat St. Ed's," said sophomore outside hitter Andrew Boeckman. "It's definitely a good feeling of pride and to show all of the good work Saint Ignatius does."
The Wildcats showcased plenty of good work on the court on Tuesday evening, starting in the first set. The first ten points were split evenly at 5-5, but the Volleyball Cats picked up momentum as the set continued. Strong all-around play carried the Cats to a 19-10 lead, leading to a St. Edward timeout. The Wildcats finished out strong, charging to a 6-3 run to finish out a 25-13 set one win.
After the 5-5 tie, the Wildcats never trailed.
"Even though we know that we should be a better team than Ed's, having the first home match be against Ed's and having a few more people here and more energy, we started out nervous," said Head Coach Jacob Layden. "We stayed together as a team and earned a good victory."
The second set started in a similar way, with the Wildcats and Eagles trading points. The men of Ohio City and Lakewood split the first 16 points, but from there, it was all Wildcats. Saint Ignatius won three of the next four points, leading to a St. Edward timeout. James Thoma hit several serves with pin-point accuracy, building the lead to 16-10. The Eagles won the next two points before the Wildcats slammed the door shut. The Volleyball Cats' killer instict kicked in, as the hosts burst out to a 9-1 run to complete a 25-13 win.
In the third set, the Wildcats broke their foes. Leading 9-6, the Wildcats tore off an incredible run. Phil Catanzaro (14 kills) and Andrew Boeckman (7 kills) threw down the hammer with impressive serves and unstoppable kills. Boeckman proved especially dominant at the service line, as the Eagles had no answer for his precision serves and thunderous kills.
The Wildcats roared to a 16-1 run to catapult to a dominant 25-7 win in the third set.
"Andrew went back to the service line and put a ton of pressure on them. It's something we preach every day at practice – win the service and pass game," Layden said. "The one time that we completely control the game is when we go back to serve. We control the entire contact. If we can be elite at that skill, That's what happened in the third game. We were that much better at that skill. It broke it open and it went from a 9-6 game to a 25-7 game. A nice run."
Boeckman's skills at the service line served the Wildcats well down the stretch and will be a key weapon for the team this season. Across the three sets, Boeckman notched 4 aces and 19 points won at the service line.
"It was great because I really dialed in and focused on serving in certain spots and at certain players," Boeckman said. "I stayed focused because I wanted to get some points and finish out the game."
Looking ahead, the Wildcats will head to Walsh Jesuit on Saturday for two weekend contests. The Volleyball Cats will play the Warriors and the St. Xavier Bombers.
The Wildcats will be attempting to establish consistency in the coming weeks, particularly with talented players such as Vince Holzheimer (27 assists at setter) and Matt Rogers (10 digs at libero) playing at new spots.
"This year, versus the last couple of years, our focus will be on team chemistry. You won't see us moving a ton of guys in and out of the lineup this year," Layden said. "What you saw is what you're going to get. These guys haven't had the continuity that I feel like we've had with teams the last couple of years where they've played together. We have a lot of new guys on the court and new guys together on the court. Phil has been a 4-year starter, but we need to figure out as a group how to win. I'm looking for Teddy to step up in a new position, Phil and Andrew to continue what they did last year, and for Vince to step into a new role he's playing. He did a nice job setting that third game. We won the serving game, but him coming in and making a few better decisions as a setter really helped."
JV Cats also sweep the Eagles
In a show of strength, the Wildcats pulled away from the Eagles late in both sets. The JV Cats tore off a nice run to win the first set, 25-17, and bore down late to tear off a 25-20 win in the second set.
With the victory, the Wildcats are now 3-1 on the season. The JV Cats will play at Walsh Jesuit on Saturday at 8:30 am.