A point away from the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament championship and pulling off an improbable run, Padua Franciscan senior setter Ella Mihacevich was practically beaming ear-to-ear when Assumption overpassed the ball. Mihacevich watched as senior libero Katie Thompson stepped in to control the pass. 

As Padua Franciscan coach James BeHarry said, “Ella was smiling because she knew where she was going. She knew (senior outside) Samantha (Ott) had the hot hand. Ella flicks it out there to Sam and she ripped it down the line into this small space right off the right back and out of bounds.”

With that, Padua, from Parma, Ohio, downed top-ranked Assumption, the home team, 19-25, 25-22, 25-22 to capture the LIVT for the first time in school history. Beating Assumption in the final came one match after Padua outlasted fourth-ranked Mater Dei in three sets 20-25, 25-21, 25-15 in the semifinals. 

High School volleyball 9/19/2019-Samantha Ott-Padua Franciscan
Samantha Ott kisses the trophy after her Padua Franciscan won the LVIT

“Everyone played hard the whole time,” BeHarry said. “Sometimes girls take plays off but they played hard every point. Our libero was ridiculous. They were just hitting bombs and she was getting these balls up. (Assumption coach) Ron Kordes is over there on the sidelines with his hands up asking how she got that one.”

Last year, Padua drew a tough seed and wound up in a day-one pool with hometown Mercy. Mercy won, leaving Padua playing out day two in the silver bracket. Needing to win the Day 1 pool to advance, Padua nearly had a repeat performance this year before escaping. Padua needed three games to get past Notre Dame Academy of Kentucky and reach the gold bracket. 

Making the top eight also gave Padua a chance at some payback, as Mercy was up in the quarterfinals to start Saturday’s action. Padua swept 25-22, 25-22 for the first of three consecutive victories over ranked opponents. 

“We were happy to get Mater Dei,” BeHarry said. “We didn’t really think about beating them. We lost that first set and didn’t quit. After that we knew we could hang with Assumption because Mater Dei just beat Assumption. We served (Assumption) tough and got them out of system. We have hitters all over the place, so when we are passing we can compete with anyone.”

The question is what now?

After winning the LIVT with victories over Assumption and Mater Dei — and with second-ranked Torrey Pines suffering its first loss of the season last week against rival La Costa Canyon –- does Padua take over the No. 1 spot in the next updated rankings?

More than likely yes. 

And with that, Padua has set itself up perfectly for the mythical national championship. If Padua can win out the rest of the season – tough matches against St. Ursula Academy and St. Joseph are ahead, as well as possibly Ursuline Academy in the state playoffs – it can be in position to claim it. Assumption and Mater Dei are playing at the Durango Fall Classic this weekend. Mater Dei is also at the Nike TOC coming up. Both Assumption and Mater Dei figure to do well the rest of the season and into the state playoffs, which is expected to boost Padua’s case even more should the Bruins win out.  

“Having a chance to win a national championship, how often does that come along,?” BeHarry said. “They’ll be up for the challenge. A lot of times we are playing against ourselves. If we can keep the errors down we can beat anybody.”

Durango Fall Classic
The Durango Fall Classic is this coming weekend in Las Vegas. Padua Franciscan is not one of the 64 teams in the field because Ohio high school rules don’t allow schools to travel to states that aren’t contiguous to Ohio. However, Assumption, Mater Dei and Mercy are three teams from the LIVT heading to Durango and playing back-to-back weekends. Here’s a rundown of the event:
Number of Teams: 64
States Represented: 9
Defending Champion: Assumption
Top Seeds:
1. Redondo Union (CA)
2. Torrey Pines (CA)
3. Mater Dei (CA)
4. Assumption (KY)
5. Cathedral Catholic (CA)
6. Marymount (CA)
7. Mercy Academy (KY)
8. Xavier Prep (AZ)
9. Marin Catholic (CA)
10. Foothill (CA)
11. Leon (FL)
12. Kamehameha (HI)
13. ‘Iolani (HI)
14. Pleasant Grove (UT)
15. Lone Peak (UT)
16. Sierra Canyon (CA)

Favorites: Redondo Union enters as the No. 1 seed but the Sea Hawks are expected to be shorthanded. Senior libero/setter Nalani Iosia is scheduled for her official visit to Texas, leaving Redondo without the player who has been the anchor in the early going as the Sea Hawks have competed without junior setter Kami Miner. Miner was part of the Youth National Team which captured the country’s first gold medal at the FIVB U18 World Championship in Egypt. Given Redondo Union still won’t have its full lineup together, it’s a tough ask of the Sea Hawks to hold seed and walk away with the championship. 

The only team to defeat Redondo Union is Torrey Pines. Yet, after the Falcons swept past Redondo last week, they lost three days later to rival La Costa Canyon in straight sets. La Costa Canyon is also at Durango, in the same Day 1 pool with Kamehameha. Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon are set to square off again next Wednesday after both play in Las Vegas this weekend. Torrey Pines hasn’t played since suffering its only loss. The Falcons have relied on a trio of seniors in Delaynie Maple, Maya Satchell and Megan Kraft. They have combined for 299 kills. 

Mater Dei continues its toughest stretch of the season a week after taking third at the LIVT. The Monarchs headed to Louisville early last week, facing off with Assumption on Thursday and downing the Rockets in five games. Mater Dei trailed two sets to none before pulling off the comeback and winning, 28-30, 21-25, 25-17, 25-17, 15-13. Junior outside Zaria Henderson (17 kills) and senior middle Meg Brown (14 kills) had big nights for Mater Dei. Senior setter Mia Tuaniga was also instrumental for the Monarchs, finishing with 31 assists, 14 digs, 10 kills, 5 blocks and 2 aces. However, as stated in the intro, Mater Dei’s hopes of going undefeated on the weekend ended in the semifinals of the LIVT with a loss to Padua. Brown currently leads the Monarchs in kills with 102. She’s hitting .353. 

Assumption has lost twice already after going undefeated last season. Still, winning Durango goes a long way for any team and the Rockets have the opportunity to deliver a statement in Vegas. Whether Assumption still has a shot at the mythical national championship by winning Durango remains to be seen, but in all likelihood the Rockets’ hopes end with another loss in the desert. While senior outside Anna DeBeer (154 kills) and senior middle Rylee Rader (158 kills) have been a big part of the attack as expected, Assumption doesn’t have the same dynamic offense overall as last year. The Rockets will continue to develop and it’s a program that always improves throughout the year. Heading into this week, freshman outside Sydney Helmers was third on the team in kills with 54. 

Outlook: Given Redondo Union is going to be short-handed, it’s difficult envisioning a team not named Torrey Pines, Mater Dei or Assumption winning it all. However, the school with seemingly the best shot is Marymount. The Sailors have not been tested though the same way the other top seeds have. Marymount is set to host Redondo Union next week after Durango, but where will the Sailors stand? Though Marymount is young, there is a wealth of varsity experience already. Sophomore outside Elia Rubin and sophomore right side Kerry Keefe played big roles as freshmen. Senior middle Marisse Turner and senior outside Amara Aimufua also contributed plenty. It’s not far-fetched to see Marymount putting together a run and taking the Durango crown. The talent is there. 

We mentioned Marymount ahead of Cathedral Catholic because even though the Dons are seeded one spot higher, the Dons have losses to Torrey Pines (twice) and Redondo Union. It would take something for Cathedral Catholic to rise up in Vegas and win it all. At the same time, with someone like outside Maddie Endsley on the court, any match is winnable because she’s capable of taking one over. 

Mercy Academy losing to Assumption and Padua Franciscan doesn’t preclude the Jaguars from taking home the Durango title, but it would certainly come as a bit of a surprise. With setter Elena Scott and libero Eleanor Beavin, Mercy is going to be competitive regardless. What Mercy is working on is finding some consistent offense behind senior outside Caitlin Carpenter. 

Of the remaining teams, the most intriguing ones are Xavier Prep, Marin Catholic and Leon. Leon is seeded No. 11 and arrives with one loss. It came against Trinity Catholic in five games. If the Lions are to do damage, senior outside Shania Cromartie (130 kills), senior OH/MB A’nylah Cobb (89 kills) and sophomore RS/OH Cailin Demps (75 kills) figure to be part of the success. 

Xavier Prep has been a Day 2 stalwart at Durango and the Gators should get in the mix again. They are coming off a tough five-set victory over Corona del Sol on Tuesday. Xavier needed 40 combined kills from seniors Jasmine Knight (25) and Bri McKnight (15) and 50 assists from sophomore setter Alexa Shiner. If Xavier can get past Chaparral on Wednesday, then the Gators will arrive at Durango undefeated. 

Speaking of being unbeaten, Marin Catholic should also show up in Las Vegas without a loss. The Wildcats play Tamalpais on Wednesday and are favored in that one. Marin Catholic hasn’t played the same schedule as teams like Redondo, Mater Dei, Assumption and Torrey Pines, but the Wildcats did defeat a strong Sacred Heart Cathedral squad in its opener. SHC is also playing at Durango and is seeded one spot behind Marin Catholic.

Quick Notes: Foothill, seeded No. 11, lost in five games to Mater Dei in its first match of the season. The Knights also have a loss to Temecula Valley, a team the Knights have beat as well. …

Kamehameha, seeded No. 12, defeated No. 13 seed ‘Iolani in last week’s ILH meeting. It was ‘Iolani’s first loss of the season. Kamehameha fell out of the VolleyballMag.com Top 50 after suffering its first loss of the season a week earlier to Punahou. …

Pleasant Grove, the No. 14 seed, takes on Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas on Thursday night in a warmup to the weekend’s festivities. Pleasant Grove is set to take on Lone Peak, seeded No. 15, on Oct. 1 back in Utah. … 

The No. 16 seed Sierra Canyon has played a lot of volleyball. The Trailblazers are 20-1 with a match set for Wednesday evening against Campbell Hall. It’s a match Sierra Canyon should win. The Trailblazers’ only loss to date is to Torrey Pines. …

Bonneville is expected to contend for the best team in Idaho this season. The Bees did go down against Thunder Ridge in state already. Bonneville does own a victory over Madison, which is also playing at Durango. 

Prediction: It’s almost a process of elimination. As we said, it’s asking too much of Redondo to claim the championship without its full lineup. It’s also asking a lot of Mater Dei to fly across country to Kentucky, return home, play two matches this week and then head off to Vegas and be fresh enough to carry through four matches on Saturday. That leaves Assumption, Torrey Pines and we’ll throw Marymount in there as well. In the end, Assumption and Torrey Pines have had some thrillers in recent years and that will continue this year. Torrey Pines over Assumption in three games for the championship. 

Top 50 Rankings At A Glance
The Durango Fall Classic will hopefully help settle the national rankings some. Top-ranked Assumption losing to Mater Dei last week means a new No. 1 on the next updated set. 

Fourth-ranked Byron Nelson of Texas still has the lone loss to Redondo Union. Sixth-ranked Mercy of Michigan fell for the first time, going down to Lowell in two sets Saturday. The Marlins were playing without senior outside Jess Mruzik, who was named MVP of the FIVB U18 Championship. 

Another team taking its first L on the season was No. 7 Marist of Illinois, which was beat by Carmel of Indiana. In the same boat is No. 13 Ursuline Academy, which was upset and suffered its first loss when St. Ursula Academy prevailed in five games earlier this week. 

Cedar Falls of Iowa, at No. 20, was defeated for the first time by St. James Academy of Kansas in the final of the Millard North Invite. Continuing along with first losses is No. 28 Green Hope of North Carolina. The Falcons lost to both Mater Dei and Assumption at the LIVT. Althoff Catholic of Illinois, at No. 29, fell to Plainfield North over the weekend for its first setback. 

Brookfield Central of Wisconsin, at No. 38, broke into the Top 50 last time but took its first loss against No. 50 Arrowhead over the weekend. Brookfield Central defeated Arrowhead earlier this season. 

SportsCenter Honors Walton’s Emery Dupes: Back in February during the Triple Crown Sports NIT in Kansas City, then A5 Mizuno 16 Gabe libero Emery Dupes made a spectacular save. The play was captured on video and wound up being featured that night on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. 

Dupes is a junior libero for Walton High School out of Murrieta, Georgia. A couple of weeks ago, the amazing play kept on giving. ESPN presented Dupes with a Top 10 banner before a recent match. 

“It’s honestly crazy that this play has gotten so much attention from so many people,” Dupes said. “I have never imagined that I could be on ESPN and it’s amazing that on Oct. 10 it will be aired as a top 10 amateur play of the year. I was so thankful to for getting to be honored and recognized by ESPN SportCenter top 10 in my hometown last week with all my family and friends there to cheer me on. I’m so grateful I got to celebrate that at Walton with my team.”

Dupes is one of 10 amateur athletes honored for a SportsCenter feature airing on October 10. It’s called “SC Top 10 Day.” 

“It’s unbelievable how much attention this play has brought,” Dupes said. “I’m excited to see what ESPN will air this following month. It’s awesome how ESPN is covering women’s sports and women’s volleyball now.”

For more: https://www.11alive.com/article/sports/emery-dupes/85-91e23075-123b-4792-8cd7-87b747821d7d

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