HUDSON — Through a sloppy start and an 0-2 deficit, Ridgewood never stopped smiling or bouncing in its huddles.
When Thursday night’s Class 5A, District 8 final was over, the Rams finally erupted with joy.
Ridgewood rallied from two games down to topple top-seeded Fivay, 20-25, 17-25, 25-19, 25-16, 15-12, and earn the school’s first district championship in 22 years.
“My goodness …” coach Amber Starkey said after her team danced and hugged on the Hudson court. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Fivay (21-6) dominated the match’s first two games, allowing Ridgewood (21-6) to lead only once. The Rams had no answer for the Falcons’ service game, as Ashliegh Nemetz tallied two of her team’s five early aces.
Ridgewood senior middle hitter Mary Kujak said the Rams could have folded then, as they had in previous district tournament collapses. Instead, Ridgewood continued to stay loose, helping the Rams respond with better defense and crisper passes.
“Back to that Ridgewood team I know and love,” said Kujak, who led the Rams with 10 kills and 11 blocks.
Strong defense by Taylor Vanicek (25 total digs) and Brianna Berchiolly (16 digs) helped Ridgewood steal the third game. The Rams used six blocks, including three of Leah Travers’ eight on the night, to get back into the game and tie the match.
Fivay jumped ahead in the fifth game behind two of Nemetz’s team-high 12 kills before Ridgewood answered one final time. A kill and a block by Kujak led to three costly Fivay errors in the Rams’ pivotal 7-0 run before freshman Aubree Sigismondi ended the match with one of her seven kills.
“I can’t even describe what it means,” Kujak said.
Toni Imbimbo led Fivay’s effort with 11 kills, 28 digs and three aces. Alli Hudson added 11 kills, and Briannah Nemetz chipped in 25 digs and four aces.
6A-10: Mitchell test Tarpon, falls just short
TRINITY — Mitchell, having never beaten Tarpon Springs in volleyball, found itself tied at 10 in the decisive fifth game of Thursday’s Class 6A-10 championship.
But that’s when Tarpon standout Ashlyn MacGregor came straight up the middle for one of her game-high 38 kills, then later added a big block as Tarpon took the last five points for an exciting 25-15, 25-27, 25-21, 25-27, 15-10 victory.
“We really wanted it that last game,” MacGregor said. “We knew it would be a struggle, expected it go at least four.”
What she nor anyone expected is how Mitchell forced the fifth. Mustangs coach Keith Paulk, with his team up 20-19, decided it was a good time to insert freshman Payton Murchie for her “blistering, unusual serve.”
Thing was, she had never played in a varsity match. All Murchie did was hit two serves that Tarpon couldn’t get back. Lyndsey Lane ended the game with two of her 15 kills.
Tarpon (22-3) at first looked like it might roll, going on a 15-1 run in the opening game with MacGregor posting 10 kills. But Mitchell (18-6) did a better job of getting her to the back row quicker in the second, where the Mustangs were keyed by five kills by Daniele Green, all after the score was 14 apiece.
It was just 20-19 Tarpon in the third game before MacGregor helped close it out with two kills and one of her eight blocks.
Spongers sophomore Allie Cullens had a career night defensively with seven blocks, Kelsi Collins flew around gathering 14 digs to go with her nine kills and setter Dominique Scalisi had 40 assists.
Mitchell’s Shayna Filippelli posted 47 assists. Jessika Hester matched Lane for the team-lead with 15 kills and both Hester and Filippelli had 30 digs.
“This was an opportunity game for us,” Paulk said. “You have the chance to finally beat Tarpon but if you lose, the season’s not over. I tried to stress that to take the pressure off the girls, but they still feel that pressure of trying to beat them.”
Paulk thinks his team has a “solid shot” at a rematch via the region semifinals.
Correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report.