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A Memorable Season Ends With an OHSAA Runner-up Finish

By Dave Takacs '26, 05/29/24, 10:30AM EDT

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The Wildcats' dream season finishes with a trip to the OHSAA Division I State Championship.

SPRINGFIELD, OH - The Volleyball Cats secured their spot in the State Tournament at Wittenberg University after a thrilling win in the OHSAA Regional Final against a talented Brecksville-Broadview Heights team. This was a significant victory, as the Brecksville team had previously swept the Wildcats earlier in the season. With this win under their belt, the Wildcats now set their sights on the State Semifinal game, where they would face off against the 21-5 Hilliard Darby team, another team that had handed the Wildcats one of their three regular-season losses. 

In the first semifinal set, the Cats came out very strong, playing a near-perfect brand of Saint Ignatius Volleyball despite a rowdy Darby student section. Ten of the twenty-five Wildcat's points would come from kills, including four from Jack Ragon and Sean Atkinson, as well as one from Chris Slater and Will Overburger. Jack Ragon also contributed from the service line early on with his outstanding top spin serve with three consecutive aces to bring the Cats the momentum they needed and a lead. From that point forward, the Cats would go on a nineteen-to-eight run with outstanding performances in a dominant 25 to 14 in the first set.

As the Cats entered the second set of the match, they were mindful of their struggles in the second sets throughout the playoffs, including the Regional Quarterfinal and Regional Final against Walsh Jesuit and Massillon Jackson. Despite Hilliard Darby starting the set with two consecutive points, a diving play by Sophomore Setter Andrew Brobbey set up a powerful kill for Senior Right Sider Lucas Bender as he made no mistake slamming the ball into the hardwood, giving the Cats momentum. 

On the next play, 6 '6" Sophomore Captain Jack Ragon rejected a Darby attack with a striking block to quiet the rowdy Panthers crowd. Ragon stayed red hot that set, claiming a third of the Wildcats' kills, three digs, and a block. Junior Defensive Specialist Adam Swiatkowski led the Cats in digs in the second set, picking up five. The Wildcats would dominate the second set the rest of the way as they would mirror the score from the first set, winning 25 to 14 to take a 2-0 set lead. 

The Cats headed into the third set with a chance to get a clean sweep. The set started with a point to the Panthers from an overpass from the Wildcats that ended in a kill for Hilliard Darby. Darby would start the set as they did the last two with a strong start, but they started getting hot as soon as the Cats got their first point off of a misserve from the Panthers. Lucas Bender added a statement of a kill followed by a couple of mistakes from the Hilliard Darby attack. 

Despite starting down by three, the Cats captured nine straight points to establish their lead. Will Overburger had his customary stand-out set in the third, notching a total of three kills, an assisted block, and a .500 hit percentage. On a point with the score eleven to eight in favor of the Cats, Hilliard Darby had what they thought was a point, but an outstanding play by the Cats to keep a ball up that they hit into the net led to a Hilliard Darby attack that Will Overburger roofed. Hilliard Darby was able to hold on deeper into the set this time. Still, ultimately, the Wildcats proved superior as they won the set 25 to 21 to sweep the Panthers in the OHSAA State Semifinal.

The Cats' State Championship opponent was set to be a Jesuit showdown with the St. Xavier Bombers out of Cincinnati. The Bombers came into the match hot off of a 3-1 win over the Olentangy Liberty Patriots in their semifinal match. The Bomber's record heading in was an outstanding 26-1, earning them a state ranking of number one and a national ranking of number three. 

The Bombers have one of the most talented rosters in the country, including Joe Taggert, who has the second-most kills among sophomores in Ohio, Andrew Berkemeier, who is ninth in the state for kills, Aiden Berkemeier, who has the most assists in Ohio, and Ohio State commit Brady Jones, who has the second-highest hitting percentage in Ohio. 

The first set of the finals started with a Bomber point off an Aidan Berkemeier kill on only the second hit. The Cats would then take the following two points, although Jack Ragon notched a kill to give the Cats back the lead. The set would see a couple of back-and-forth points and lead changes before St. Xavier would eventually settle in with their hitting, punishing the Wildcats on many occasions. 

The Bombers would take a nine-to-four lead with five straight points, forcing Head Volleyball Coach Dominick Adornato '11 to take a timeout in hopes of regrouping his squad. After the break, the Bombers would block the Cats' attack twice to extend their lead. The Cats never found their groove in the set, as St. Xavier would go on quite a run to run their lead-up. The Bombers' most significant lead of the set would be fifteen points. The set would end off of a controversial call on a block that resulted in a pole violation by the Wildcats, where St. Xavier would win it 25 to 10.

The Cats started the second set with a Lucas Bender kill that found a weak spot in the Bomber back row and a Will Overburger kill that caught Berkemeir off guard to give them a two point advantage. St. Xavier would eventually win the serve back from a kill that deflected off Ragon and out of bounds. Adam Swiatkowski, Christian Aguirre, and Sean Atkinson would each earn kills of their own, swinging the pendulum of momentum their way momentarily. 

Brady Jones would end the Cats' run of success with a statement kill. Jim Skerl award winner Atkinson did his best to rally his team by adding a few more points to the Cats score and a few nice plays from Slater, but St. Xavier eventually pulled closer to the Cats' score. Aiden Berkemeier was the secret weapon for the Bombers, as he notched a plethora of assists and a few kills of his own. The score eventually evened up to fifteen a piece, and the state leader in blocks, Slater, would reject a bomber attack. 

From that point on, the score went back and forth until St. Xavier started to pull ahead at the twenty-point mark. The Bombers would win the set by a score of 25-to-21 and go ahead two sets to none in the state championship. 

The Wildcats were now faced with a must-win set if they wanted to keep their hope of a State Championship alive. They needed to figure out a way to diffuse the Bombers, as the men from Cincinnati had dominated in the first two sets. St. Xavier would start red hot again as they jumped out to a three-to-zero lead. The Cats would win back a few points here and there but eventually fell into a 21-to-9 hole. 

The Cats would rally together, starting their best run of the afternoon. Strong plays from the Cats' big names Ragon and Swiatkowski and mistakes from the Bombers gave the Cats new hope. The Cats were able to rally back to a score of 22-to-18, forcing the Bombers to take their first timeout of the afternoon. Out of the break the Cats gave away the serve on miss hit serve that traveled into the netting. The Cats then struggled on the next point, unable to free a ball over the net in desperation giving the Bombers match point. 

The Cats would get the serve back and send Junior Christian Aguirre to the service line as a last hope. Andrew Brobbey came up with a huge block, followed by Ragon's block at the next point. The Cats would fight back to make it 24-to-22. The Bombers would eventually win it 25-to-22, ending the Cats' run and securing their first OHSAA Volleyball State Championship and 62nd championship in school history.

Nevertheless, the Cats had a historic season, starting 11-0 without dropping a single set. Following their first loss in the elite eight tournament, they would go an outstanding 14-3, only losing to top-ranked teams in the state. The Wildcats battled adversity after losing beloved senior setter Patrick Maly to injury, to which Brobbery stepped up to fill the role. He led the Cats to victories over top-ranked teams in Massillon Jackson, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Hilliard Darby, and many more. 

The Wildcats marched through the playoffs despite criticism from outside media sources questioning the true caliber of the Wildcats to which they would prove to be a force to be reckoned with making it all the way to the state championship capturing a regional title along the way. This was surely a season for the history books for the Wildcats as they finished 24-4, ranked third in Ohio and 18th in the nation. The talent, hard work, camaraderie, and love for the game showed for this Saint Ignatius team as they took the OHSAA division I runner-up trophy.