NEWARK — No doubt, Smyrna got contributions from all six positions on the floor during the DIAA championship match on Thursday night at the Bob Carpenter Center. But the big three — Anna Richardson, Elise Carter and Eliza Schneider — were just too much for Ursuline as the Eagles captured their first state title with a decisive 3-1 win.
This was the first volleyball state championship for a program from below the canal and was the first time a Henlopen Conference team reached the final. It was also the first state championship in the sport for a traditional public school since Concord won in 1992.
“Being the first downstate team to win a state championship, it’s huge not only for our girls, our program, our community, but also for all those other schools downstate that are looking at this and saying, ‘Hey, if Smyrna can do it, maybe one day we can do it,’” Eagles coach Danny Wandless said.
Richardson and Schneider caused fits all night for the fourth-seeded Raiders, as they have done to opponents all season. Smyrna, the second seed, entered the title match with a record of 17-1. It didn’t take them long to make their presence known in front of a big crowd at the Bob.
The Eagles had a 15-7 lead in the first before the Raiders scored four straight, capped by an Emelia Panunto ace. Schneider and Richardson answered, however, with consecutive bombs, and after a Raiders error, Richardson sent a shot off the Ursuline block and to the floor. Brooke Berge served up three straight aces to get it to set point, and after three saves by the Raiders, Richardson went straight down to end it.
Wandless said a quick start was key. “I wanted to start fast. I wanted the girls to get on top of this team and finish the deal in the first set. That set the tone for the match.”
A Claire Kelly block gave Ursuline an 8-5 lead in the second, but Smyrna fought back, eventually taking a 12-11 lead on a kill by Carter, followed by a smash by Schneider. This time, the Raiders would stick close, fighting back from five down to tie the score at 21 on another Kelly block. Richardson untied it with a blast, and Schneider added her own before an attack error sent it to set point. A Raiders error ended this one.
The teams put on quite a show in the third. The score was tied 10 times by the time it reached 15-15, but the Eagles took a three-point lead and looked like they might roll on to victory. But Ursuline ran off six straight, including a pair of tape aces from C.C. DeCaro, to take a 21-18 lead. The Eagles answered with a 6-1 run to get to championship point, but they would be unsuccessful on four of them while trying to close it out. The Raiders took the set on an attack error and had new life.
But Smyrna quickly quashed any thoughts of a comeback with their performance in the fourth. Schneider and Richardson had consecutive kills to open the set, and after a stuff by Kelly pulled the Raiders to within two at 9-7, the Eagles put it away. Carter was all over the place as the lead ballooned, reaching 12 points after Carter smacked down an overpass. Richardson’s final kill got the Eagles to championship point, and Schneider wrapped it up by sending one into the floor.
“I was crying the whole time,” Schneider said. “I was so happy. I didn’t know what to feel other than joy.”
“There were a lot of emotions,” Richardson added. “I played with a lot of the starters for five, six years, so it was really bittersweet.”
It was more likely sweet than bitter as a Smyrna police cruiser escorted the team bus out of the Carpenter Center back parking lot for what was certainly a loud ride back home.
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