First, there was the nine-hour bus ride. Then, there were six grueling sets of pool play. Then the semifinals. Then the finals.
All in the course of two days.
The Sacred Heart girls volleyball team wasn’t fazed by the trek from Hempstead to Buffalo for the CHSAA state tournament, nor were the Spartans fazed by a late five-point deficit in the fifth set of the state final.
Olivia DeJesus had 11 kills and 11 blocks, leading the Spartans (16-1) to a 14-25, 25-20, 15-25, 25-16, 27-25 over Buffalo St. Mary’s, the host school, on Saturday, to earn the program’s first state championship since 2007.
“We actually struggled doing that the whole day,” DeJesus said. “We were playing fine, but we weren’t really playing our best. We were having trouble finding that energy, and it really only came together in that last set of the day.”
Trailing 23-18, Sacred Heart had to pull together with its balanced roster to stave off elimination. Emily Barry had 13 kills, Carlea Mirante had 12 kills and Riley Leimbach had 39 assists.
Coach Emily Butler credited her team’s preparation, as well as the strategy implemented by assistant coach Lauren Dunne, as reasons for their success.
“This was the year,” Butler said.
Sacred Heart went 5-1 in pool play, sweeping Mary Louis Academy and Westchester Kennedy Catholic and splitting two sets with St. Mary’s. Sacred Heart then swept Kennedy Catholic in a best-of-three semifinal, setting up the dramatic championship match against the host team.
DeJesus said the gym was packed with local fans, creating a vibrant atmosphere.
“I think that really pushed us,” she said. “It almost felt like the whole town was there, and we had our little section. It was actually really fun. We just had to ignore it and keep playing our game.”
A game that led to the first state title in over a decade.