Strong, savvy front line play by the Claymont Northmont Thunderbolts ended the 2018 season prematurely for the Saint Ignatius varsity volleyball team on Saturday in Bexley, Ohio at Capital University's Capital Center.
The Wildcats battled hard throughout the Ohio High School Boys Volleyball Association (OHSBVA) State Quarterfinal, but the strong arms of the Thunderbolts' outside hitters and Northmont's brick wall blocks spelled doom for the youthful Cats.
The men of Jacob Layden finish the season at 19-5, looking ahead to the 2019 season and the promise it brings with so many talented players set to return.
"They were an athletic team and put up a good block," said Layden. "Their front line was pretty solid. For us to compete, we really had to pass well and serve tough and consistent, and we weren't able to do those things well."
Clayton Northmont started the contest on a roll. Thundering out to a fast start, Northmont built a lead of 5 by the halfway point of the match. Northmont's reliable passing helped the underdogs set up the team's big boppers in the front row.
The Wildcats battled hard and started to adjust as the match continued, with help from Head Coach Jacob Layden. The Wildcats drew within two, 22-20, but the Thunderbolts won three of the next five points to take the set, 25-22. The final two points came on surprising net violations by the Wildcats.
The second set began with difficulty for the Cats, as Saint Ignatius struggled to counter strong serves by the Thunderbolts. The Wildcats managed to stay above water and tied it at 8-8. Northmont then went on a 6-1 tear, leading to a timeout by Coach Layden.
The Wildcats displayed more confidence out of the timeout, and started to target weak spots in Northmont's armor. The Volleyball Cats won four points in a row and rallied to an 18-17 deficit. Errors on serves prevented the Cats from tying the contest, but strong play at the net by Teddy Koncelik, David Castele, and Phil Catanzaro helped the Cats remain in the match.
However, in the end, the Thunderbolts gained momentum as Saint Ignatius kill attempts fell outside the lines and passes did not connect. Northmont earned the 25-19 set win to force the Wildcats into a corner, with much of the credit going to the Thunderbolts' front line for exploiting narrow openings in the Wildcats' defense.
Northmont rode its strong arms up front in the third set once again. The Thunderbolts flew to a 7-5 lead, though a pair of nice serves by Andrew Boeckman tied the set. Then Northmont started to slowly gain traction thanks to nice blocks at the net and smart kills that avoided the outstretched fingers of the Wildcats' front liners. The Volleyball Cats burned a timeout after falling behind, 15-10.
Despite several strong plays by the Cats, Northmont managed to stay in front, edging the lead to 21-16 off some well-placed kills. Down the stretch, the Thunderbolts finished off the Wildcats, as the North Region's top-seeded team could not mount a comeback.
"We have a young team, I think it showed," said Layden. "We played well all year, even against some good teams when we were able to play them earlier in the year. It's a team that worked really hard all year and brought energy, but we weren't able to bring the energy today."
Despite the tough loss today, the future remains bright for the Volleyball Cats.
"We're young, both in our ages and playing experience," Layden said. "We only had two guys returning from playing last year. We'll have 7 guys coming back who played in this match today, so hopefully this experience translates to better play next year at States."