It wasn't just strong net play, sharp passing and consistent serving that helped No. 2 seed Nardin knock off No. 1 St. Mary's for the All-Catholic volleyball championship on Monday night.
"By far it was our energy," said Nardin coach Debbie Taylor. "The girls wanted this one bad. There was no pressure on us. This match was for pride. This match was for No. 1, and the girls wanted that."
Nardin needed four games to get past the perennial league champs on their own floor. It was Nardin's first win after appearing in the title game for five straight years.
The Gators used a 9-0 run in the first game in an eventual 25-19 win. Sophomore Hannah Kam served out the final four points of the second game, mixing in two aces, for another 25-19 win.
The Lancers regrouped in the third game, coming back from a 6-1 deficit to win, 25-19.
In the deciding game, St. Mary's jumped out to a 9-0 lead, but Nardin would not be denied. The Gators took the lead for good at 20-19, and match point came on a serve that went deep.
St. Mary's and Nardin split during the regular season. The Nardin loss was the only one of the regular season for the Lancers (11-1) while Nardin finished 9-3.
"We thought that we shouldn't have lost those three matches during the regular season," said Taylor. "We wanted to show everybody here tonight that we shouldn't have lost those."
Junior Catherine Viola led Nardin with nine kills and senior Andrea Manthei had 15 digs.
St. Mary's was looking to add to its previous playoff titles in 2001, 2000, 1999 and 1997. Sophomore Danielle McNeil had 10 blocks and eight kills, senior Jamie Kremer had 12 assists and sophomore Rebecca Suchy added five kills. The loss was the first for the Lancers since Sept. 28.
Despite dropping the first two games of the match, St. Mary's coach Becky Baker never lost faith that her team could come back.
"There was no doubt in my mind that we could do it," she said. "We were just going to keep plugging away. They had a great match. Our passing wasn't great and we didn't get a lot of hits because of it. Nardin played great and we didn't play so great."
In the consolation match, No. 4 seed Mount Mercy needed five games to eliminate No. 3 Sacred Heart. Mount Mercy, last year's playoff champion, was beaten by St. Mary's in the semis.
Mount Mercy hung tough after losing the fourth game, 26-24, and won the fifth game, 25-23. Senior Leanne Maloney, named league MVP in a postgame ceremony, had 18 kills while sophomore Kristy Sheridan had seven.
"The first part of the season we weren't playing well, and this team is just growing," said Magic coach Bill Faust. "With kids it's a learning process. They learn that you stay with it and play hard. All I ask is that they give 100 percent on and off the court."
The semifinals and finals were held at the new St. Mary's field house for the first time. The venue provided plenty of space for cheering sections from both schools along with an estimated 300 fans.
Nardin, St. Mary's and Mount Mercy advance to the New York State Catholic Championships on Saturday and Sunday at Hofstra University. The eight-team tournament includes three from the Brooklyn-Queens diocese, two from Rockville Centre and Buffalo's three.
After three rounds of pool play on Saturday, the field will be cut to four teams, who will move on to Sunday's semifinals and finals.