After having a soft touch returned early in the fourth set of the CHSAA championship, Ryan Wilkens switched gears. He took the next ball that came his way and spiked it for a powerful kill.
He spun around, pumped his fist and then did the same thing again and again as the set progressed. The kills gave No. 2 Kellenberg the momentum it needed on the way to its third consecutive set win and third volleyball championship in five years, 19-25, 25-19, 25-22, 26-24, against No. 1 St. Anthony’s at Adelphi University on Friday.
“It wasn’t working,” Wilkens said, who had 15 kills. “I had to do something that worked, and it worked.”
Coach John Heitner said he told Wilkens earlier to use the strength he had shied away from previously, even pointing to his bicep from the sideline. The Firebirds made a point of feeding the ball to Wilkens’ side when the defense shaded the other way, and he took advantage. Even when St. Anthony’s sent his hit back, it couldn’t be redirected and flew out of bounds.
“He was slamming the line, they couldn’t pick it up,” championship MVP Kevin Keenan said. “The bench was going crazy whenever he hit the ball.”
St. Anthony’s, led by season MVP Eric Peper, didn’t let the momentum Wilkens created define the fourth set. The Friars took a 15-8 deficit and turned it into a tie at 17. Each time the Firebirds took a lead after that, St. Anthony’s answered as Peper used his athleticism to force runs of points.
The Friars tied the game at 22, then 23, forcing it all the way to 25-24 before Kellenberg sealed it. Peper had 18 kills and 10 blocks. Daniel Kelerchain had 12 kills.
After dropping the first set, Kellenberg rebounded by stringing together lengthy runs, including one that took 10-of-14 points to build a 21-15 lead. In the third set, Kellenberg held off a St. Anthony’s rally with the help of another big kill from Wilkens.
Keenan had 12 kills and 10 blocks, while Aidan McManaman had nine kills. Andrew Patino had five kills, three blocks and 16 digs.
As the Firebirds celebrated with their new championship plaque, Keenan ate a cupcake and recounted what exactly had led them there.
“Today we were the better team passing and we could run our offense because of that,” he said.
And that passing found Wilkens in the biggest moments.