In a battle of North Region foes for Northeast Ohio volleyball superiority, the men from Saint Ignatius emerged victorious on Tuesday evening.
In the first of two matches between the powerhouses, the Wildcats captured a 3-1 win over the Massillon Jackson Polar Bears.
The victory represents a significant test passed for the Wildcats as the postseason creeps into view. The Polar Bears entered as the No. 2 squad in the North Region and the No. 10 team in the state, just behind the No.2/9 Wildcats, according to the Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) polls. The Wildcats, now 9-4 on the year, now have nine contests left in the regular season.
The Wildcats followed the top rule for a team playing against a tough team on the road – start strong. The Volleyball Cats fired out to a 6-0 start, powered by three Vince Holzheimer aces, two Phil Catanzaro kills, and one Jackson error. The Polar Bears battled but never drew within five points of the visitors. Errors hindered Jackson, as the hosts committed 11 in the opening set. Masterful services, including 2 aces, and 6 digs by Matthew Rogers pushed away Jackson in the middle stages of the set, before two Catanzaro kills provided the final dagger in a 25-15 set one win.
The second stanza started more evenly, with the Wildcats and Polar Bears splitting the first 12 points. Jackson then notched a 4-0 run, aided by Saint Ignatius errors. The Polar Bears would never relent the lead.
Jackson galloped to a 6-2 run, advancing the lead to 16-9. Catanzaro recorded a kill and Holzheimer tabbed an ace, but then Jackson steamrolled to a 5-1 run, taking full control of the set. Catanzaro, Boeckman, and the front liners did not allow Jackson to run away with it, narrowing the deficit to 23-20. But the Polar Bears won two of the last three points to take the set, 25-21.
The third set was a grind-it-out battle, a thrill to watch. Jackson began the stanza on a 7-3 run, leading to a Saint Ignatius timeout. The Wildcats fought tooth and nail, coming close to tying the contest, thanks to strong play at the net by Catanzaro, Alex Heath, and Teddy Koncelik. But each time the Volleyball Cats came within a point, Jackson won the volley to prevent a tie.
Finally, a Catanzaro ace knotted the set at 18. The teams exchanged errors and nice plays, tying the contest at 22. Enter Eric Larsen. The senior stepped up in the clutch, blocking a Jackson spike and tipping the final point for the win, 25-23. Larsen's heroics proved to be the turning point of the match.
The fourth set shaped up as a laugher. The Wildcats dominated from start to finish, never trailing. Catanzaro, Larsen, and Koncelik helped the Wildcats open an 11-5 lead. Jackson tried to stem the tide with a timeout, but the men of Ohio City did not relent. Catanzaro tipped a point and the Wildcats forced four Jackson errors, leading to another Jackson timeout at 16-7.
Boeckman and the Wildcats remained ferocious after the break, tallying kills and forcing Jackson errors, en route to a 21-9 lead. Boeckman, Koncelik, and Holzheimer all earned points down the stretch to cement a 25-12 statement win in the fourth and deciding set.
Across the match, Catanzaro provided a guiding light, with a team-high 14 kills, along with 6 digs and 2 blocks. Boeckman's 13 kills proved to be huge, as did Larsen's 6 kills and 3 blocks. Holzheimer supplied a steadying presence in the middle with 40 assists and 4 aces. Rogers did a good job, as always, in the back with a team-high 16 digs.
Riding a 3-game winning streak, the Volleyball Cats will journey to Centerville (a suburb 10 miles south of Dayton) this weekend for the Centerville Elite 8 Tournament. The Wildcats will battle Archbishop Moeller, the No. 3 team in Ohio, in the first round on Saturday at 10 am. Should the Wildcats win, they would face the winner of St. Xavier vs. Dublin Jerome. If the Cats lose, they would play the loser. The Wildcats defeated St. Xavier, the No. 2 ranked team in Ohio, in a previous match this season. Win or lose, the Wildcats' second match will be at 11:45 am. The third and final match of the day is tentatively set for 1:30 pm, no matter how the Cats fare.
The four teams at the top of the bracket are Hilliard Darby, Centerville, Elder, and Lakota East. The Wildcats lost to Elder in March, and are slated to host Darby on May 4.