The Olentangy Liberty girls volleyball team rallied for a second-set win, evening the match 1-1, but Magnificat took each of the next two to capture its first Division I state title in program history Saturday at Wright State University’s Nutter Center.
Serving proved to be a storyline as the Blue Streaks (23-6), who won 25-21, 24-26, 25-14, 25-19, collected five aces in the fourth set, including two straight from Abbey Havrilla to turn a tight two-point spread into a 23-19 lead they parlayed into the championship-clinching win.
“They had a really aggressive serve that just dropped either really short in front of you or lifted up right as you were going to pass it,” Liberty senior captain Grace Ganz said. “So, it kinda threw everyone off a little bit, I think.”
Patriot coach Jen Chapman agreed, but said unforced errors on her team’s side played a part, too.
“They served aggressively … even though I think we passed well,” she said. “I think we just made some more unforced errors on our side at key moments — when it was tied or we were ready to take the lead — and didn’t quite finish the play, leading to two- or three-point swings we had to come back from.”
The Patriots had to battle back quite a bit, but that’s exactly what they did from start to finish: battle.
“I’m just really proud of these girls,” Chapman said. “They worked so hard all season and, even though it wasn’t the result that we wanted, they should hold their heads high for what they’ve accomplished as a team.
“Kudos to Magnificat. They played an awesome game. We battled, we just didn’t, you know, quite do what we needed to do.”
The opening set could have gone either way. Liberty led 17-16 on a combo block from Michelle Ezenekwe and Claire Mrukowski, but Magnificat scored the next three to take a lead they never relinquished. A kill by Sarah Karabatsos made it 18-17 before a hitting error forced a Patriot timeout.
Liberty got within one, 22-21, but the Blue Streaks closed out the set with a 3-0 spurt punctuated by a combo block from Mary Flanagan and Sophia Anghilante.
The Patriots trailed 11-4 in the second set before scoring eight of the next nine to get within one. They evened the set at 13 thanks to a kill from Kaili Worcester before the teams traded blows down the stretch.
An Ezenekwe kill knotted the set at 24, an attack error gave Liberty set point and another kill from Ezenekwe sealed the deal.
Ezenekwe, who missed most of the last two seasons due to injury, finished with a game-high 16 kills to go with seven blocks. The loss wasn’t the way she envisioned the season or her high school career coming to a close, but she said she’ll never forgot the ride.
“It means a lot to me that I had the opportunity to play with these girls even though it didn’t finish exactly how we wanted it to,” she said. “I’m still really happy we were able to make it this far this year and I got to experience it.”
Ezenekwe came up with a huge solo block early in the third set, making it 1-1, and Liberty led 5-2 on a Magnificat hitting error, but the Blue Streaks erupted after that.
They scored 14 of the next 15 points to run away with the third set.
Liberty led 8-5 on a kill from Nicole Russell in the fourth, but couldn’t get much more breathing room than that. Gabi Moulton collected back-to-back aces after Magnificat took a 20-17 lead, but the Blue Streaks used Havrilla’s aces and kills from Flanagan and Anghilante to secure the title.
The Patriots, who finished the season 27-2 — the best mark in program history — beat Magnificat twice in the regular season, but Blue Streaks coach Megan Green said her team simply got better since dropping the matches to the Patriots.
“It was a really tough match, and we expected it to be tough, but our girls really prepared for it and this is all on them,” she said. “After the Columbus Invitational Tournament, where we saw (Liberty) for the first time, as the season progressed, we just got better and better.”
McKenna Cook backed Ezenekwe with 10 kills and 24 digs, Abbey Queen collected a team-best 25 digs and Moulton finished with 37 assists.
Flanagan and Ella Ford had 14 kills apiece for the Blue Streaks. Lauren Yacobucci had 47 assists and 18 digs and Havrilla closed with 29 digs.
Chapman said this year’s team was as close as any she’s had, which is what will stick with her the most.
“Family has been a theme for this group from the beginning,” she said. “They really bought into it and that’s what I’m most proud of. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to come in and win a state championship, but I will remember these girls for their friendships, how they treated each other and the culture and family they’re leaving behind as their legacy.”