The State Quarterfinal can be a cruel mistress.
You head down to Columbus with high hopes, paired against a very tough, but beatable team. You come ready to play, but the fates seem to be conspiring against, and you lose. The tournament ends for you, without the chance to play on a very fun and competitive day two of volleyball on Sunday.
The Wildcats know it well, and met the fate once again, losing to Archbishop Moeller in their opening contest of the 2019 Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) State Tournament.
The Crusaders bested the Wildcats in three sets – 25-19, 25-18, and 25-23.
The loss ends the 2019 season for the Wildcats. It seems unfair, as if this team deserved to play for longer. This year's edition of the Volleyball Cats were filled with talent. And beyond that, the roster is packed with great young men. Look up and down the roster, and you'll find plenty of humble young men that you can't help but root for.
A strong contingent of Wildcats fans made the trip down I-71 to Capital University to do just that – cheer on the Wildcats. The men of Ohio City felt the love early on, keeping it close at 8-7. Eric Larsen and Andrew Boeckman tallied early points on smart plays after long volleys, delighting the Saint Ignatius fans. The set stayed close to the midpoint, with Larsen, Boeckman, and Teddy Koncelik all winning points to bring it to 15-14 Moeller.
The Crusaders then took control with a three-point run. The small slide irreparably harmed the Wildcats, as did another 3-0 streak to boost the score to 22-16 for the Crusaders. The Wildcats then earned three straight, but Moeller's killer instinct kicked in, as the Cincy men finished off the Cats, 25-19.
The Wildcats rolled to start the second set. The squad fired out to a 5-1 run, powered by a nice run at the service line by Phil Catanzaro. Larsen added to the lead with a block, and Moeller committed errors to stretch the score to 9-5. Then a 5-0 run by the Crusaders flipped the script, forcing Head Coach Jacob Layden to burn a timeout. Moeller never trailed again in the set.
Thanks to balanced plays by Vince Holzheimer, Matt Rogers, Boeckman, Larsen, and Catanzaro, the score stayed close. Heading into the home stretch, the Wildcats trailed by just two, 20-18. Then Moeller's killer instinct shined again, as the Crusaders rattled off 5 straight points to seal the set, aided by Saint Ignatius errors.
In the third set, some teams might have folded. Not the Cats. With Boeckman, Koncelik, Larsen, and Catanzaro dealing doozies in the front line, the Wildcats roared to an 11-6 lead. Moeller took a timeout regroup, and then tore off an 8-3 run. In respose, the Cats took a timeout, but Moeller did not relent, taking the lead via two Saint Ignatius errors. Kills by Boeckman and Catanzaro knotted the contest at 18, setting up a thrilling stretch run.
Moeller rattled off five straight points in quick fashion, snatching a 23-18 lead, poised to end it there. But the Cats fought on, with three Boeckman kills and a Larsen block taking the Clevelanders to 24-23. But then, in heartbreaking fashion, the Crusaders finished off the Cats with a kill, submarining the Cats' comeback attempt and the season.
Boeckman finished as the match's leader in kills, with 11, just head of Catanzaro's 10. Rogers topped the team with 24 digs. Holzheimer worked his usual magic with 30 assists. Larsen led with 4 blocks.
Looking at the big picture, the loss does not mean much to the legacy of the senior class, but it still stings now. It's not much solace now, but 25 years from now, when Larsen, Catanzaro, Koncelik, Rogers, and Matt Stankewicz are great successes, the loss won't mean much. Instead, the quartet will look back on the fun memories and team bonding.
In the meantime, we wish the seniors Godspeed. Good luck, men!