The Volleyball Cats clinched a State Tournament berth last weekend against the St. Edward Eagles in the Regional Final in a 3-0 match sweep. The Wildcats will now take on Olentangy Liberty in the OHSBVA State Quarterfinal on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. from Pickerington Central High School. With a win, the Wildcats will compete in Championship Sunday for a chance at a State Championship.
This season has been full of adversity for the Volleyball Cats. They were not only having to navigate through a pandemic but dealing with multiple injuries throughout the season. Seniors Andrew Boeckman, Danny Salem and Alec Bender battled through injury this season; however, the Wildcats are at full strength heading into the State Tournament.
First-year Head Volleyball Coach Dominick Adornato ’11 knew that a part of the season would be rocky due to the number of injuries heading into the regular season but was confident in his underclassman to navigate through the adversity. “Freshmen and Sophomores stepped up huge for the injured seniors in the first half of the season,” explains Adornato. “Once we got healthy, we got on a run.”
Once the calendar flipped over to May, the Wildcats began their run as one of the top teams in the state of Ohio. As in May, the Cats would go 8-2, which includes two tournament wins. “When we played Hudson is when we finally cliqued,” says Boeckman. “We were happy to be finally all healthy, and we played with confidence; it was a sense of relief.”
“When we beat Hudson in three, it was remarkable,” explains Adornato. “We went on to beat St. Edward twice after which was crucial; those three games told me we were ready to compete with the top teams in the State.”
There were a significant number of notable games this season that the Wildcats look back on that have helped them better themselves throughout this season. “Even though we lost that Brecksville game, it showed the way we can play our game,” says Salem. “Andrew (Boeckman) stepped up huge, showing how great of a player he is and the St. Edward match-ups showed that we could dominate and win.”
Senior Libero and captain James Thoma has been a catalyst this season for coach Adornato’s Wildcats and look back at the match against Jackson and Walsh Jesuit that showed the Cats were ready to compete with the best in the state. “Our second game against Jackson and match against Walsh Jesuit showed me that we’re connected as a team,” Thoma explains. “We made our serves and combos were working; that was nice to see everything come together.”
Freshman captain Patrick Maly has been a phenomenal addition to coach Adornato’s Wildcats as a setter. Despite being a freshman, Maly has been able to settle his nerves through the season. “Everyone on the team is uplifting,” says Maly. “We never have anyone get down, we stay connected and we play as a team.”
Boeckman has put this 2021 season into perspective, having battled through an injury but grateful for the adversity. “I feel like because of covid and the adversity the world has gone through during the pandemic, it showed us how to work through challenges,” says Boeckman.
“Everyone’s willingness to step up this season helped us get close as a team this season.”
As practice began on Thursday, June 3, Salem realized that it was his and the seniors’ last practice with the team before heading to the State Tournament. “I am grateful that we had a season,” explains Salem. “Last year, I learned just to be grateful even to have a season and this has been my favorite team by far.”
“It’s crazy to think this is the last season I have,” Thoma says. “After our game against Brunswick, the parents informed us that it was our last game at Ignatius, but we are always excited for the next opportunity.” The Wildcats defeated Brunswick in the Regional Semifinal that night at Sullivan Gym in a 3-0 sweep.
On Saturday, the Wildcats will take on Olentangy Liberty in the State Quarterfinal. “Olentangy has a lot of size and power,” explains Adornato. “We have to serve aggressive, which has been our motto all season long; if we take away their big hitters, which we’re capable of, we will have our chances advancing.”
The Wildcats will square off against a worthy adversary in 6’10” middle blocker Cole Young of Olentangy Liberty, committed to the Ohio State University. “We have to shut down their middle blocker who is committed to Ohio State,” says Salem. “Even if he gets a hit, we force it to Thoma, who is a monster, and as long as we play our game this weekend, we should be fine.”
“The main key is confidence,” says Boeckman. “With my experience in going into the quarterfinal match-up is that it’s overwhelming and you can overthink; we need to work as a team and trust each other will be the most important aspect.”
“It is a bit nerve-racking as a freshman; first time playing in a huge game means a lot,” Maly explains. “I have a great group of guys around me and we are going in with a great mindset.”
The winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal match-up will take on the winner of Beavercreek/Cincinnati Elder in the State Semifinal on Sunday. The State Championship is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday from Pickerington Central High School. The OHSBVA will be streaming the contests this weekend and will be pay-per-view. The link to those broadcasts will be linked in the SIBN tab.
The last State Championship in volleyball for Saint Ignatius came in the 2017 season when the Wildcats hoisted the trophy. They will be seeking similar success this weekend in Columbus.