Among the three teams in attendance at the annual Jesuit Tournament at Walsh Jesuit, Saint Ignatius entered as the underdog, at least on paper, according to the Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Coaches Association (OHSBVA) rankings.
The Wildcats didn't play like it.
The men of Ohio City swept Walsh Jesuit, the No. 1 ranked team in the North Region, in three sets. Then the Wildcats one-upped the feat by defeating St. Xavier, the No. 4 team in the state, in four sets.
So much for being the underdogs.
The journey to two wins was filled with challenges, however. The Warriors fought tooth and nail throughout the Wildcats' first game of the contest, including in the first set.
The Wildcats and Warriors split the first 14 points of the opening set. Saint Ignatius then opened a 4-0 run with two Vince Holzheimer aces and two Walsh Jesuit errors. Trailing 11-7, the Warriors burned a timeout.
The hosts of the tournament did come close, but never tied the game. The nearest the Warriors came was 12-11. From there, the Wildcats broke out to a 9-2 run and never looked back. The Warriors did make it close with a 5-0 run late, but a Teddy Koncelik kill and a Walsh Jesuit error sealed the deal, 25-23.
In the second stanza, the Wildcats and Warriors split the first six points, 3-3. The Volleyball Cats then set the tone for the set with a 6-0 run, powered by back-to-back-to-back aces by Koncelik. After a Walsh error and an Eric Larsen block, the Warriors called a timeout, trailing 10-5.
The middle portion of the set was played very evenly. The Wildcats lead bounced between 4 and 5 points, until a rocket Phil Catanzaro kill sent the lead to 18-12. Down the stretch, three Boeckman kills and a Matthew Rogers ace cemented the Wildcats' largest win of the day, 25-18.
The third set was a dogfight. Looking to avoid a sweep, Walsh Jesuit stole an early 7-5 lead. A 6-1 Wildcats run threw a wrench in those plans, as Larsen and Catanzaro keyed the turnaround. But then four straight points by Walsh Jesuit flipped the comeback and set the score at 12-11 Warriors.
The score see-sawed back and forth in the middle part of the set, with the lead not eclipsing two points until a Catanzaro block granted the Wildcats a 19-16 advantage. The Warriors quickly flipped the script, though, tallying 4 straight points to steal the lead back. But then the Warriors committed a serve error to tie it at 21.
In the waning moments, the Wildcats took control. A Boeckman kill, a Heath tip, and a Walsh error gave the Wildcats a 24-21 lead. Two Saint Ignatius errors at match point dwindled the score to 24-23, but a Warriors error ended the set and the match, 25-23.
Boeckman led the Wildcats in kills with 12. Holzheimer steered the way in the middle with 34 assists. Rogers mastered his role as libero with 10 digs.
"We showed some inconsistency from the service line against Walsh but still were able to complete a 3-0 sweep," said Head Coach Jacob Layden. "Vince set really well and made a lot of great decisions. Teddy is getting more comfortable in his new position on the right side and got us some critical kills. Both Heath and Larsen blocked really well for us and we were able to take advantage of their athleticism in the middle."
The Wildcats then stared down their Jesuit brothers from Cincinnati – St. Xavier.
The South region is known for producing excellent volleyball teams, including the perennially strong St. Xavier program. Last season, the Bombers swept the Wildcats, 3-0. This year was different.
From the very beginning, the battle of Jesuit powerhouses was a heavyweight bout. The teams traded jabs and the lead, but the lead never surpassed one point until the Wildcats tallied two straight points for a 10-8 advantage in the first set. The lead reached four at 15-11, thanks to kills by Larsen and Boeckman and two St. Xavier errors. But then the Bombers got hot and tore off four straight points.
A Bombers error ended the run, giving the Wildcats lead at 16-15, but then St. Xavier roared for four points in a row again. This stretch led to a Wildcats timeout, trailing 19-16. After the break, the Wildcats fought valiantly and trimmed the deficit to 21-20 thanks to a Boeckman kill. But the Bombers held onto the lead with vicegrip strength, concluding the set at 25-22 thanks to two big kills.
The second verse started the same as the first, battling to a 7-7 draw. Then the men of Cincinnati ran into some trouble, losing four straight points to the Wildcats, thanks to two Catanzaro kills, a Holzheimer kill, and an error. The Bombers called a timeout, but could not stop the bleeding, as the Wildcats flowed to a 4-1 after the break, leading to another St. Xavier timeout.
The Bombers made adjustments and narrowed the deficit to two, one, and then none, tying it at 18. Then the Wildcats turned it up a notch and won four of the next five points, on the back of Larsen and Catanzaro. Heroic blocks by Holzheimer and Heath in the final moments sealed a 25-20 victory.
The Wildcats and Bombers traded runs to start the third period. The runs neutralized, with Saint Ignatius ahead early 9-8. The Wildcats then catapulted to a 6-3 run, with Catanzaro lighting up the floor with two kills and an ace. The Wildcats never again relinquished the lead, which never slimmed to less than two. Kills by Boeckman and Catanzaro clinched another 25-20 conquest.
The front lines played exactly evenly, in terms of kills at 14 apiece, leaving the fourth frame to be decided in other ways. In the end, errors decided the outcome.
The teams again battled to a 5-5 draw to start. Then the Wildcats broke out, clawing to a 10-5 run thanks to complete play at all three levels. Continued strong play up front and a pair of errors allowed the Wildcats to remain in the driver's seat heading into the home stretch at 20-15.
The Bombers refused to go away quietly. Three kills in four points led the Wildcats' coaching staff to burn a timeout, with the lead down to 21-18. Out of the break, the Wildcats' front line came up in the clutch, drilling back-to-back kills, by Catanzaro and Koncelik. The Volleyball Cats held the keys to the game, leading 24-19.
A scary comeback followed. An error by the Wildcats and back-to-back Bomber kills set the score at 24-22. But on the ensuing serve, an error decided the set and match. St. Xavier committed a serve error and handed the Wildcats the final point, the set at 25-22, and the match.
The Wildcats received great contributions from nearly everyone in the upset win. Phil Catanzaro tallied an incredible 25 of the team's 54 kills. Andrew Boeckman tallied 14 kills, 14 digs, and 2 blocks. Teddy Koncelik contributed 9 kills, 5 digs, and a block. Alex Heath notched 4 blocks. Vince Holzheimer penned 7 digs. James Thoma carded 2 aces. Eric Larsen cupped 5 kills and 3 blocks. Matthew Rogers added 13 digs.
"We have played St. X a number of times in recent years and there has been great energy in each game. Having Phil back healthy was huge, him and Andrew were the driving forces offensively both hitting a really high percentage on a large number of attempts," Layden said. "St. X has some of the best players in the state on their team, but we were able to remain consistent. The consistent serve receive passing from Rogers and Phil allowed us to keep them off balance defensively and win 3 in a row after dropping the first set.
"I'm really happy with the way the team performed and I'm excited to see the carryover of a good early season win in the team's confidence and understanding of the energy level we have to play at to win big matches."
Following the momentous weekend, the Wildcats will host Hudson on Monday evening at 7:15 pm.
The Wildcats' match vs. Massillon Perry has been moved from this Wednesday to next Wednesday, April 17. The varsity match will start at 7:15 pm after the JV contest.
JV Cats earn a nice win
The JV Cats advanced to 3-1 on the year with an important win over Walsh Jesuit. The Wildcats tallied a 25-22, 22-25, 25-22 victory in three sets over the hosts.