By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
VALLEJO — St. Patrick/St. Vincent used an other-worldly performance by hitter Paige Reed and the home-court advantage that came with a roaring, near-capacity crowd to roll to the North Coast Section Division 4 volleyball championship on Saturday night.
Cardinal Newman spent four games hanging in, but couldn’t get over the top in a 25-22, 21-25. 25-19, 25-21 title match loss that ended with a raucous St. Patrick/St. Vincent crowd on its feet, literally rocking their home gymnasium.
“Their crowd was just out of control,” Cardinal Newman’s Emily Bonfigli said.
“It was so loud. Being in sort of a hostile environment like that is different.”
Reed, who dominated at the net, from the middle and even leading all servers, fed off the crowd, leaving the Cardinals a bit overwhelmed.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said the Cardinals’ Mimi Fowler.
“We’re used to our home crowds in our little gym. They played a great match. I think we could’ve played better.”
Cardinal Newman coach Anna Waller agreed that the environment had an impact on her Cardinals.
“It was a hostile environment, so loud, and I’m not really surprised we played a little bit tentatively,” Waller said.
“It takes experience in these kinds of championship matches to get used to this type of crowd. You have to have the confidence that you can play your best in this type atmosphere and tonight we didn’t have that.”
Waller was quick to credit Reed, a powerful, high-jumping hitter who dominated from start to finish.
“She’s a great, great athlete,” Waller said.
“She hustles and she covers the court. They have a fantastic defensive team. They dug balls that we’re not used to other teams digging out. They played a great game.”
Cardinal Newman moves on to the California Interscholastic Federation Division 4 tournament, along with the section-champion Bruins, beginning Tuesday.
The Cardinals will likely open on the road, carrying a 25-8 record. St. Patrick/St. Vincent should get a home match with their 34-5 mark.
The teams split the first two games because, in large part, Cardinal Newman’s Emily Papale matched Reed and sophomore standout Erin Morini at the net. Papale came up with the block or kill to respond to the Bruins’ stunning stars. Cardinal Newman actually led the first game 19-16 before losing.
Papale had two blocks and two kills to give the Cardinals a 21-17 lead after Kayla Cagliano’s serve. Julie Buehner-Kemper had two blocks and set up the game-winner.
“I don’t think that they played with more emotion than we did or anything,” Papale said.
“We just play with a different kind of emotion. We could’ve played better, but they just played great from the start.”
The runner-up spot in the North Coast Section and trip to the state tourney took some of the bitterness from Saturday’s defeat for the Cardinals, who are building a new identity after the Ursuline powerhouse dominated for years.
“We accomplished the goals we set for the season,” Bonfigli said.
“We reached the section championship match and we got the first girls’ pennant by any team in two years at Cardinal Newman.”
Waller was disappointed with the loss, but excited about a season that’s far from over.
“It’s been a great year and it’s not like we’ve played our last match,” she said. “I’m very happy for our girls. Tonight we got beat by a great team.”
Papale said the Cardinals are trying to do something bigger than win North Coast Section titles.
“We’re still new at Cardinal Newman,” she said of girls and their athletic teams. “We’re playing to start a tradition there. We want people to look back on what we did and remember us.”