SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- The Union Catholic volleyball team has played its best this season when the stakes are high and the pressure is on.
So with the added motivation of playing on Senior Night, it came as no surprise that the Vikings, ranked No. 2 in the state, once again displayed that clutch trait and rose to the occasion to defeat No. 11 ranked Pascack Hills in two hard-fought sets in front of a big home crowd on Wednesday night.
There were lots of festivities before the start of the eagerly anticipated match.
First, Union Catholic honored officials Jim McCue and Gary White as part of NJSIAA Student Ambassador Officials Appreciation Wee. Then a special ceremony was held for UC's senior players, Grace Kane, Olivia Rittenhouse, Olivia Szyszkiewicz, Alexandra Kwasnik, Abbey Ortiz, Najlaa Williams, and Gabriella Hernandez, and senior Uyiosa Igori, the team manager.
When the match started, Union Catholic took control midway through the first set on the way to a 25-18 victory. Then in the second set, UC relied on superior digging and serving and great play at the net to rally from a 20-16 deficit to win the second set, 25-23, to raise its record to 22-1. The only blemish on UC's record came at the hands of Immaculate Heart Academy, the No. 1 team in the state.
Union Catholic has now defeated five teams that are currently ranked in the Top 20 in the state, including two wins over No. 17 ranked Westfield.
Kwasnik, who had five kills, three digs and four service points, said the fact that this year's team is so battled-tested and has been in so many high pressure situations is a big reason why the Vikings have won so many matches against some of the state's best teams.
"We have it in our heads that when the match is close we have even more drive at the end to push through and win the set,'' said Kwasnik, who is headed to the University of Cincinnati to play volleyball. "It definitely helps that we've been in so many big matches together over the past few years. That has given us a lot of confidence that we pull out wins in matches like tonight.''
Kwasnik said to win such a big match on Senior Night added to the excitement and made the night even more memorable.
"It's so exciting to celebrate Senior Night with girls who've played together through high school and even before high school, and then to come up with a win against the 11th ranked team in the state just makes this so much better,'' said Kwasnik. "And there was more adrenalin than usual with all the parents here and the crowd was loud. It was just such a great night for all of us.''
Several players contributed to the victory for UC.
Szyszkiewicz had a huge performance, recording 10 kills, 13 digs, and four service points. Kane had six kills, Ortiz came up with 10 service points and nine assists, Williams had 14 digs, Adrienne Caceda finished with 11 service points and 12 assists, and Brianna Lamberty recorded eight service points, and seven digs.
The Vikings will be back in action on Friday at home vs. Elizabeth at 4:15 p.m. in the second round of the Union County Tournament. UC is the defending county champion and the top-seed this year.