By Mark Schmetzer, Enquirer contributor
Ursuline opened its Division I state championship season last year with a four-game non-conference home loss to Lakota East.
The Lions ended the Thunderhawks’ season with a four-game win in the regional finals.
The two high-powered programs renewed their rivalry Tuesday night at Lakota East, and even though it was another four-gamer, the look was different. Lakota East, which lost six seniors from last year’s team, couldn’t match Ursuline’s front-line depth, which the Lions made pay off with 19-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 win.
Senior Sam Fry had 17 kills and junior Lauren Wilkins added 15 for Ursuline (2-0), the No. 1 team in the Enquirer’s Division I coaches poll. Coach Jeni Case was concerned about her hitters’ inconsistency. Fry finished with eight errors while Wilkins had seven.
- Photos: Lakota East battles Ursuline
“You’re not going to beat anybody like that,” Case said, pointing out that nobody had more than one error in Ursuline’s season-opening win over No. 10 Lebanon.
Lions’ junior Anne Debbane led both team with 43 assists, which will help her in the competition with sophomore Alyssa Steller for the starting job. Sophomore libero Avery Naylor finished with 27 digs.
Lakota East coach Casie Garland still is discovering who has the capability of filling the holes left by graduation. Sophomore outside hitter Taina Benitez led the third-ranked Thunderhawks (3-1) with 14 kills, while sophomore setter-outside hitter LeeAnn Starr turned in a team-high 17 assists. Senior libero Cailyn Wachtel came up with 36 digs.
“Four of the players who graduated are playing Division I,” Garland said. “We knew this year was going to be different.”
The teams took turns opening the first two games with runs. Lakota East won the first game after jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Ursuline countered by opening the second game with a 6-0 run.
The third game was more back-and-forth, with Lakota East fighting back from a 13-8 deficit to take a 16-14 lead before the Lions took control with a 9-0 run.
Ursuline took control early in the fourth game, snapping a 2-2 tie with a 7-0 run capped by a Wilkins kill.
Play of the match: The outcome of the third game still was up in the air when the right-handed Debbane outtouched a Lakota East player with her left hand at the net to give the Lions a 19-16 lead. They went on to win the game.
Stars of the game: Ursuline – Debbane with her assists. Lakota East: Starr, who also had nine kills and 23 digs.
View from the sideline: Case on Lakota East: “They’re scrappy. They play great defense.” Garland on Ursuline: “They are (scrappy), too, but they’ve got the age and experience. They’re defending state champs. They’ve been there, done that.”
Odds and ends: The Thunderhawks schedule has them facing another GGCL Scarlet Division team, seventh-ranked Mercy Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Lakota East. The Lions also face a GGCL team on Thursday, Division II Alter at Ursuline at 7 p.m.