MORRISTOWN _ Villa Walsh's Anique Barch changed her headbands often during the Non-Public first-round match versus Kent Place on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
Barch wore a white one for warmups but it kept falling off. For the first set, which the Vikings lost, she switched to red.
That, too, didn't stay in place so Barch took out the bright yellow one that she got in Dallas when her club squad, Atlantic Valley, played in the Lone Star Classic.
Because 16th-seeded Villa Walsh rallied to take the match, 25-18, 22-25, 11-25, Barch now considers the yellow headband to be a source of luck.
Why not? Barch, a middle hitter and one of six seniors on the team, played exceptionally well in the next two games. She and her teammates talked and executed their plays.
"The yellow one worked," said Barch, who was impressive in racking up 12 kills and six digs. "I had yet to find one that was lucky but this is it. After losing the first set, we kept our energy up. We stayed positive. There was a lot of communication and encouragement."
The state tournament victory was the Vikings' second in the history of their young program. Villa Walsh (17-7) has played at the varsity level since 2011 and its players are proud of the progress made since then.
"We're the ones who were on the inaugural team," said senior libero Mary Cawley. "This means a lot. We all came together this year."
Villa Walsh fell, 2-0, at Kent Place last fall in the states and was anxious for a rematch. The girls kept requesting that a match be scheduled but that didn't happen so they were pleased to find out Kent Place, seeded 17th, would be their opponent in the opening round.
Initially, Villa Walsh, which will play top-seeded Immaculate Heart in the quarterfinal round on Friday, Nov. 8, made some costly errors in the opening game yet kept it close. Kent Place (10-13) capitalized on those mistakes. However, the Vikings didn't despair and put up a fight.
"We had to start again and forget about it," said Cawley, a Long Valley resident. "We had to play like it was a new game and not get down on ourselves."
"We always say 'Two more sets,'" Barch said. "We focus on the positive. It's anyone's game. They didn't blow us out of the water. We were still in it."
The seniors turned in superb efforts. Cawley (10 digs), Megan Powlen (5 digs, 11 service points), Veronica Manley (5 kills), Grace McGurn and Christina Pallitto along with Barch seemed to elevate their level of play in their final game at the school's new athletic center.
Villa Walsh coach Anneliese Yombor praised the performances of all of the seniors, especially Manley, an outside hitter, and McGurn, a middle hitter.
"I loved that the seniors came through for us," Yombor said. "They did things we haven't seen them do."
With the Vikings leading 7-6 in the third game, Powlen showed off her new jump serve, reeling off six consecutive service points.
"Megan only started jump serving five games ago," Yombor said. "She's been working on the serve off to the side in practice and has really developed it. Her serves in the third set shifted everything."
Being on the court for the state tournament match meant much to Cawley, who sprained her ankle at practice the day before last season's state match and was forced to watch from the bench.
"I was on crutches," Cawley recalled. "It was hard watching from the bench. That's why I wanted to win so much. This was a really good last home game. I'm glad to end like this here."
Yombor certainly was glad to have her in the midst of the action.
"Maybe Mary was the missing link last time," she said. "She's the pillar of our defense."
Other noteworthy statistics were posted by freshman Allesandro Mondello (7 digs) and junior Mala Stauder (5 digs).
Kent Place, led by senior outside hitter Claire Crispo (7 kills), senior setter Amanda Moskowitz (13 assists) and sophomore opposite Leigh Whitehorn (11 service points), battled.
"I think nerves got to us," Kent Place coach Sam Haimann said. "We were in position to make nice plays in the third set. There was a bad bounce here and another there which didn't help. We were making mental mistakes."
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