Pioneers edge Newman in five-set marathon
KENNER — Notre Dame’s Grace Morgan was ready to celebrate her team’s Division IV state championship victory on Saturday. She was just a tad bit too early.
Notre Dame was fighting for its championship match-point against Newman when the freshman middle blocker stopped a hard-hit shot at the net. Thinking (perhaps hoping) that play had ended in what had turned out to be an epic battle between the two-time defending champion and a hungry former champ, Morgan turned to her teammates and started to scream. But she quickly realized that the Greenies had somehow made the play. It wasn’t quite over yet.
It was just that kind of a match on the final day of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm State Volleyball Tournament.
Newman gave Notre Dame everything it had, but in the end, Notre Dame had more. After dropping the first game and the fourth, Notre Dame dug in for a 19-25, 25-14, 16-24, 17-25, 15-8 win and its third straight state championship trophy.
And seconds after her early celebration, Morgan did indeed block for the deciding kill, her 16th of the match. And a few minutes after celebrating for real, Morgan accepted the MVP award.
Morgan said she and her teammates didn’t feel any pressure to win this title. But she did have a hard time sitting on the bench, rotated out, while Newman rallied to win the fourth game. After four ties early, Newman managed to pull away to a 25-17.
“When we were ahead, I was fine,” Morgan said. “But when they started winning, I wanted to pull my hair out. I always want to be in the game.”
When she was in the game, Morgan was a dominating force, with teammates Alex Miller and Megan Malmay setting her up at the net.
“She’s a great player,” said Newman coach Colleen Loerzel of Morgan. “They have a lot of really talented players.”
But time and again, Newman showed it wasn’t ready to concede victory. Players from both teams pointed out the incredible two-minute rally they fought through late in Game 4, with Newman’s Tyler Edell finally scoring the kill.
‘There weren’t many holes at all,” said Miller. “We knew it was going to be that kind of match. We knew they weren’t going to roll over on us.”
After leading throughout the first game, the Greenies forced five ties in the second and nine in the third. Avery Rowan and Jamie Hawkins then fueled a comeback in the fourth, just when most fans in the Pontchartrain Center were about ready to count the Greenies out.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my girls,” Loerzel said.
Rowan finished with 13 kills and Hawkins had 12.
Notre Dame coach Tara Young said there was no pressure on her or her girls to repeat as champions, even though her fans chanted “Three-Peat.”
“I didn’t even hear them,” she said. “I’m old but I did see the signs. We just never made it our focus. We never even really talked about it. It just didn’t really factor.”
The last time Newman and Notre Dame were in the finals, both finished as champions. In 2007, Notre Dame won the Division III title and Newman won in Division IV. The two
did not play each other this season, although Notre Dame did capture the Newman Tournament.
“This was such a hard-fought win that it just makes it even more significant than if we had just kind of walked over somebody,” Young said.
“We showed character. We overcame adversity. We just didn’t quit.”