SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Talent and overall heart.
That has been the cornerstone to Mount St. Charles Academy’s sterling debut into the Division I ranks this fall, one that included an undefeated 14-0 league mark in I-North and a 16-0 regular-season record.
To no one’s surprise, those two attributes were on full display during the top-seeded Mounties’ semifinal match with the Prout School on Tuesday night.
Only this time, it wouldn’t prove enough.
The defending state champion Crusaders spoiled the Mounties bid for perfection inside the confines of URI’s Keaney Gym in an exciting 3-2 victory. In a see-saw match, Prout won with scores of 21-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-11 and 19-17.
The final game showed just how determined both squads were to sealing their fate and earning a ticket to this Saturday’s finals. Tied at 8, the Mounties and Crusaders knotted the score seven more times until Prout was finally able to breakaway with the last two points, including a kill by senior Emily Caswell for the deciding point.
“I don’t think it can get any more exciting than that,” said MSC head coach Josh D’Abate. “Each team played their butts off and worked incredibly hard just to get to that point. You got to take your hats off to Prout, they played really well. It was a tough match to lose, but it was a lot of fun.”
“I’d have to say that in my four years of coaching Prout, that was the most on edge I’ve been because it was like, ‘Wow, anything can happen,”” said Crusader head coach Dan Greene, whose squad compiled an 11-3 mark in Div. I-South . “I looked over at my assistant and we were just shaking our heads at each other.”
The Mounties, last year’s Div. II state champions, went into the semifinal tilt looking to match what their rival accomplished in 2009. After winning three consecutive team crowns in Div. II, the Crusaders copped the state title in its inaugural campaign in the state’s highest division with a 3-0 win over East Providence.
Prout, also a Div. III titlist in 2005, will now go for its sixth straight state crown on Saturday at 1 p.m. where it will face Coventry - a 3-0 winner over North Kingstown in its semifinal match last night - back at Keaney Gym.
Sophomore setter Carissa Gould finished with 31 assists and 12 digs for the Mounties. Also contributing greatly in the match were junior Kelsey Lace (11 kills, 12 digs, four blocks), senior Maria Saia (six kills, seven digs), senior Lauren Palazzini (seven kills, three aces) and senior Tessa Jacobs (13 kills, eight digs).
The Mounties appeared somewhat flat at the beginning of the first game and didn’t take their first lead until a block by Jacobs gave her teammates an 18-17 advantage. Prout would tie the score two more times, the last coming at 21, but the MSC rattled off the final four points to take their 1-0 lead.
The second game also looked as though it would go in the Mounties’ favor when they ran off four straight points for a 9-5 advantage. But the Crusaders, led by the strong up-front play of Caswell and setter Elise Walsh, responded with six consecutive points and the Mounties could never quite recover.
“Each team is going to go on a run,” D’Abate said. “We talked about that at practice a lot. Teams are going to go on their runs, they are going to score points and it’s just a matter of getting out of it sooner than we did.”
Mount held a 21-14 edge late in the third game and then had to hold off a determined Prout squad. The Crusaders got within a point, at 21-20, before MSC scored the final four points, including an ace by Palazzini.
After that game, Greene sensed his squad would send the match to the limit by taking Game 4. With the Mounties trailing by a score of 9-8, the Crusaders out-scored their foe, 11-1, to put the game out of reach.
“I knew we’d beat them in Game Four even though we lost in Game Three,” he said. “I told my assistant, we are going to win Game Four pretty big and the fifth game is going to be a see-saw. I didn’t know it was going to go 19-17. I figured it would be a back-and-forth battle. It’s just a feeling I had. There some players on the floor that I have coached three or four years. I just knew they would respond that way.”
“I can’t explain that one,” D’Abate said. “Sometimes a game gets away from you, and that one did.”
After finishing last year’s season at 19-0 overall, the Mounties were just two wins from duplicating that feat in a tougher division. Even though it fell short of accomplishing another state title, D’Abate couldn’t have asked for a better year from his determined squad.
“It was a great season,” he said. “It’s tough to say you are not disappointed to not be playing on Saturday. We wanted to be there at the end, but these girls showed they could play with the best of them all season long. For the senior class, this is what they were waiting for, the opportunity to play and go to five. To lose that game, 19-17, was tough, but you got to take your hats off to the girls all season. They worked hard. It’s tough to process right now.”