September 12th, 2019

Mater Dei downs Assumption in five sets

Block_screenshot 2018-10-06 at 2

Paul Najjar

Senior Writer

Mater Dei downs Assumption in five sets
Mater Dei's Mia Tuniga (in white jersey) cuts a shot to the short left corner against the Assumption block; cover: Assumption's Anna DeBeer (No. 14 in black jersey) blocks an attempt from Mater Dei's Zaria Henderson.

A capacity crowd at Assumption high school was treated to a scintillating five-set battle between two of the nation’s top three volleyball teams Thursday night.

The No. 2-ranked Mater Dei Monarchs (Santa Ana, CA) shook off some early miscues to outlast the No. 3-ranked Assumption Rockets 28-30, 23-25, 25-17, 25-17, 15-13.

With the high school volleyball national polls locked in on this game, Assumption was named 2018 national champion by and Mater Dei earned that same distinction from, both teams stepped up and delivered an action-packed, thrilling match complete with incredible effort, stellar plays and highlight reel moments.

“We knew this would be a fun environment, but we had no idea that it would be this amazing,” Mater Dei head coach Dan O’Dell said. “Assumption did such a good job hosting, and they’ve been such generous hosts. We’re just grateful for the opportunity to play them. There’s no better way to prepare for a season and playoffs than to play a match like this in front of a crowd like this. It was awesome.”

It helps to have great players like setter Mia Tuniga (San Diego State commit), MB Meg Brown (Pepperdine commit), MB/OH Lauren Tarnoff (Miami commit) and a sophomore libero in Jordyn Schilling who was seemingly always in the right place at the right time and, along with Brown, made the play of the night in set five.

With Assumption (11-1) taking the first two sets and Mater Dei (4-1) finding their collective legs and dominating in sets three and four, the decisive set brought out the best in the visitors.

It was Brown taking over the final set with five of her 13 kills, and scoring four of the Monarchs’ final six points.

Brown scored points 10 through 13 for Mater Dei. But one of them stood out above them all. Not just for what she did, but for what Schilling did to give Brown the opportunity to finish the point.

Down 11-10, Assumption MB Rylee Rader was gifted an overpass. The 6-foot-2 Ohio State commit went up to slam it down but Schilling came flying out of her back row position sliding on her knees inside the 10-foot line to dig Rader’s attempt.

And not just dig the attempt, but she gave her setter Tuniga a great pass and Brown terminated it on the opposite side to give the Monarchs a 12-10 lead.

“That play was incredible,” Assumption head coach Ron Kordes said of Schilling’s effort. “When I saw them warm up and saw their physicality I thought it might be a problem for us. But she (Schilling) slid into that spot and popped up Rylee’s sure kill and that hurt us. I thought if we’d get that point we’d be able to get a little push to the end.”

As it turned out, Mater Dei gave its two-point cushion back and then some as they had three attack errors in a row giving the Rockets a 13-12 lead. But a Brown kill was followed by a net chord ace from junior Katie Day and an attack error from Assumption to end the match.

“That serve, oh my, it just hung on the net and trickled over,” Kordes said. “Nothing you can do about that.”

Interesting to note that Rader and Tuniga trained together at a national U-20 camp last summer and became friends.

"They came all the way from California to play us and that's amazing," Rader said. "It was a great opportunity for all of us and coach Kordes reminded us how we may not ever get a chance to play a match like this again. I was tearing up when everyone was singing 'Sweet Caroline' and the crowd was rocking.

"On the court, I'd been struggling with my serve so much, but we kept pushing," Rader said. "Anna was super tonight and she's such a great leader. We knew that they were physically dominant, strong team. They're scrappy too, and we were just trying to keep up with them. Thought I had that kill late in the fifth, but they (Schilling) did a great job covering it and getting the point. We've got an army of players on our team who can do the job anytime they're called and it was fun to see so many of them come through for us."

For Brown and Tuniga, the match gave them and their team a special opportunity that they fully embraced.

“It was incredible to come in here and see the stands packed to the top,” Brown said. “I think that (the crowd) attributed to our rough start to the match. But, once we were able to get to our mindset of playing our game, things got better for us.”

Tuniga, a setter and hitter for the Monarchs, summed up Brown’s fifth set performance succinctly: “This one here? She’s the MVP. She led the team.”

The finish to the match had the added drama of finality and thus edged out the opening set for sheer thrills.

Down 24-18 and clinging to life, Assumption senior OH Anna DeBeer put on a masterful performance to lead the Rockets to the first set win.

DeBeer scored seven of the Rockets’ final 12 points in that 30-28 first set win. She put away shots from every conceivable angle and with nasty intent.

“She’s a rock star, man,” Kordes said of DeBeer’s effort. “She’s not 100 percent, she’s in pain, but she’s such a competitor and difference maker. And for Rylee, we just have to keep working on getting the ball to her and we’ll get there.”

The Rockets followed that thrilling first set win with a solid second set performance. But then Tuniga got things going with her deft touch and outstanding mix of shots at the net.

“I was getting blocked a lot in the first two sets,” Tuniga said. “And I thought maybe it would be better if I didn’t hit so hard. I had to find some other ways to see the openings on the court. Coach O’Dell and my teammates told me what was open and that helped me a lot.”

Tuniga sparked the Monarchs in set three with six kills and a stuff block. And her topspin jump-serve was a weapon all night. She’d finish with 11 kills, 2 blocks and 3 aces. Junior OH Zaria Henderson finished with a team-high 15 kills for the visitors.

DeBeer notched a match-high 21 kills to go with a block. Rader finished with 13 kills, a block and 2 aces and freshman Sydney Helmers recorded 11 kills, all in the first three sets.

“We have great atmospheres here playing Sacred Heart and Mercy and we’ve had so many big games against them through the years and those are great events. But, to play a top ranked team in the country here is special. I told them before we took the court, ‘For goodness sakes enjoy this. You’re not going to get another opportunity like this. Mater Dei is a class program with classy people running it. I could do this every week; it would keep me going forever.”

Having flown in late Tuesday/early Wednesday, Mater Dei was able to arrange study halls and practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They’ll also play in the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament Friday and Saturday at the Ohio Valley Volleyball Club.

Assumption and Mater Dei could well meet again in the LIVT on Saturday and maybe even in the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas next weekend. The Rockets defeated the Monarchs in the semifinals of that tournament in both 2017 and 2018 on their way to winning back-to-back titles in the 64-team field. Assumption has won that tournament six times; more than any school in the 24 year history of the event.

What a treat it would be for fans to see these teams hook up a couple more times in these tournaments. Kudos to all for making it happen. 


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