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Bridget Dalton heard plenty of trash-talking from Fontbonne Hall over the last month, dating back to the first meeting, won by Bishop Kearney in five, grueling sets. It was talk that Dalton has heard before.
“Every year it’s 'We’re gonna take you guys this year,'” she said, smiling. “Hasn’t happened yet, so …”
Dalton didn’t finish the sentence. Kearney’s senior middle hitter didn’t have to. The glee in her voice told the story.
Anyway, there weren’t any Bonnies chirping after the two teams’ latest showdown, not after the Tigers completed yet another perfect regular season, knocking off Fontbonne, 20-25, 25-17, 25-12, 25-16, in Bay Ridge for their 13th consecutive division crown and 179th consecutive CHSAA Brooklyn division victory.
“People are always looking for the underdog to take us down, and eventually it’s going to happen,” Kearney’s second-year coach Kristin Wulff said. “But not this year.”
Unlike the first match, a thriller won by Kearney, this one was lopsided. The Bonnies may have won the opener, taking control of the tight set late, but that would be the lone bright spot. The Tigers rallied at that point, eerily similar to the first meeting after dropping the first two sets.
Led by Dalton (game-high 11 kills) and outside hitter Deirdre Smith (six kills, five service aces), Kearney, FiveBoroSports.com’s CHSAA No. 3, rolled from there. Overpowering the Bonnies (10-2), the Tigers dominated points, taking advantage of their hitting depth and Fontbonne’s dearth in that vital category.
The turning point, Wulff said, came moments after the opening set. As the rivals switched ends, Kearney players were surprisingly positive, even smiling. It wasn’t a matter of what Fontbonne had done to them, they reasoned, but their inaccurate passing and lack of aggression. The plan, Dalton said, was to stop tipping, and get in more swings.
“Everyone kind of saw it as a warm-up,” Dalton said. “We forgot about that and came back and played our game.”
Smith, a talented junior, was at the center of the turnaround, registering four kills, including the clincher down the line. Her teammates – Dalton, junior middle Christina Shalhoub (9 kills) and junior setter Bridget Kinane (26 assists) – quickly caught on, the momentum carrying over into the dominant and pivotal third game, and continued to the fourth.
“They gave us a lot of free balls and we pretty much turned them into points,” Wulff said. “All of my four hitters were on fire today.”
Fontbonne, meanwhile, was uncharacteristically flat, unable to not only put points together but passes as well. Coach Linda Strong singled out the play of setter Sarah McCarthy and outside Justina Johnson, if only to criticize her other starters. There were too many errors, on serves and regular volleys.
“They weren’t serving, they weren’t digging the ball up, they weren’t doing anything,” Strong said. “They were so flat it was incredible. This is our home court. We should’ve been pumped up.”
While this isn’t necessarily the most talented and technically sound Kearney team, Wulff said, it may be one of the toughest. She has challenged her girls with a series of tough non-league matches, which included entering the Tigers into the Lady Patriots Volleyball Invitational on Saturday. The Tigers made it to the semifinals before losing to Francis Lewis, the defending PSAL city champions, a loss, Wulff said, that was integral to this victory.
“That was the best I’ve seen my girls play – league, non-league, scrimmage,” Wulff said. “That was the best they ever played.”
“It really gave us confidence,” added Smith.
And, coupled with yet another undefeated league season complete, it should help the Tigers next week when the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens playoffs begin. Kearney will get bye into the semifinals courtesy of its division title.
“We can do it this year,” Smith said. “We’ve improved so much since the beginning of the season. We’ve pushed ourselves really hard.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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