Mercy McAuley vs. Gilmour volleyball: Lancers force fifth set but fall to Wolves; back-to-back years as D-II runner-up

Nov. 11—FAIRBORN — The momentum swung back and forth in the Division II state championship match between Gilmour and Mercy McAuley on Nov. 11. Neither team was able to string two sets together, and it went to the deciding fifth.

After a slow start to the set, the Lancers took control and were on the doorstep of the state title. But the Wolves battled back and kept rallies alive to draw the game even from championship point.

A Maria Drapp ace and a Caroline Moore kill finished the match, and Mercy McAuley won its fifth state title.

Gilmour started slowly, but got things going in the middle of the set and continued to battle back into the match. Both teams used their blocks, and that allowed Gilmour to keep the ensuing sets close.

PHOTOS: Gilmour vs. McAuley volleyball, Nov. 11, 2023

Coach Dan Coughlin said playing Mercy McAuley was like looking into a mirror. It was going to be a battle in the front row all contest, one he knew the team was ready for.

"We were able to score off the blocks and it was going to come down to who had the runs at the right moment," Coughlin said. "That's some of the variables that come with the match. But it makes it challenging for the hitters. Both sides were tall and lanky, we needed hands on the ball at the net all night long. After that, it came down to doing the little things right."

With the offense running through the block, Kayla Channell answered the call. Channell recorded 8.5 blocks to go with 11 kills. Marlie Davis also played a strong role from the block to lead the Lancers with 13 kills and had eight block assists.

On the blocks that didn't get down, both sides showed tremendous defensive ability. The teams combined for 168 digs to keep rallies alive. Gilmour had three in double figures. Brie Habeeb led the way with 19.

Coughlin said that even with the strength of both teams being up front, they were going to need the defenses to be ready just as much.

"We knew they were going to attack in all three areas," Coughlin said. "Balls were always coming back over. The front-court, the deep court, balls were always coming over. That's what makes it such an entertaining game. Today's match was what I hoped it would be it just wasn't the result that we wanted to see. It's hard to compete at that high of a level day in and day out and there are always going to be challenges. Players got better at different parts of their games and that was a big thing for us."

The only issue for Gilmour in the match was that Mercy McAuley called a timeout with the match tied at 12-12. The Wolves' defense was strong in the final six points to take the title.

Of those final six points, two for Gilmour came on errors from the Wolves. This was the fourth straight state title match for Gilmour and all went to five sets.

The Lancers have the benefit of being young. They graduate two seniors in Maria Flynn and Ava Malinowski. Malinowski played a strong role in the back row as she racked up 13 digs.

While she wasn't able to bring back a state title to SOM Center Road, Malinowski is proud of the work the Lancers did in a challenging season and is confident the returning pieces can continue the tradition of Gilmour volleyball.

"It's a lot about relying on each other," Malinowski said. "That's what Maria and I stress a lot and it's a lot like a sisterhood. Coming from a different school two years ago, that's what makes Gilmour volleyball different. We're all best friends and we would do anything for each other. It's going to be about keeping that alive."

Habeeb added: "I think next year if we keep that legacy and sisterhood that we have on the team, we're going to be the exact same team. We're going to be able to get back to state if we keep those traditions going."

Along with the game-winner from Moore, the Wolves' Ruby Klusman recorded 10 kills while Sophia Adkins led the way with 19. Mercy McAuley saw 11 blocks and strong back-row play from Emma Adkins with 23 digs.