It was only fitting that after Friday night's action in pool play Neuqua Valley and Benet would square off again in Saturday's championship match of the 34th annual Benet Volleyball Invitational.
The Wildcats lost a heartbreaking three-setter to the Redwings on Friday but found themselves with another shot at Benet after Neuqua Valley (3-2) knocked off York 25-23, 25-18 in the semifinals. It was another great battle by the area rivals in the championship, and again Benet prevailed, this time 27-25, 25-21.
Senior outside hitter Veronica Snelling was named tourney MVP after recording 11 kills and 3 aces in the final. Setter Sara Nielsen and libero Lauren Barnes also sparkled in the team's five wins over the weekend and picked up all-tourney honors.
"I think this also taught us what we need to work on in practice," said Snelling, a returning starter for Benet. "We've been working really hard so now we see what areas we can improve on. So it's great that we can come and win a tournament maybe not playing our best."
Neuqua Valley took a 22-17 lead in the opener following back-to-back kills by Kora Kauling and Shannon Skyrd, and later had three set points at 24-21 before the Redwings stormed back to draw even and eventually win 27-25. Snelling broke a 25-25 tie with a big swing on the left side and then ended a long rally with another big hit.
"I didn't feel any nervousness on the court or like doubt that we were going to be able to win," Snelling said. "We always have a lot of confidence, even if we're down by 4 or 5, that we're going to come back and we're going to win the set. We could be down 20-to-oh and still think that we could come back and win. That's just the mentality that we have."
With Kauling and Maria Mayhew, each playing setter/right side, coming up big for the Wildcats, the second set was tight throughout and again the visitors had their chances -- this time leading 16-11 at one point and tied at 21-21.
Kauling and Mayhew combined for 16 kills and 18 assists in the title match and were joined on the all-tourney team by libero Nora Meehan, who was sick this week but who matched Benet's Barnes with sparkling dig after sparkling dig. The Wildcats also got a boost from Lindsey Hartline's sharp passing, which caught the eyes of Benet coach Brad Baker.
"Neuqua is serve receiving at an extremely high level, one that you see very rarely," Baker said after his team moved to 6-0 on the year. "And their two right sides put balls away. For us it was a typical early-season match just grinding our way through.
"I don't think we played our absolute best, but mentally we were able to stay in it."
Meehan had 12 digs in the match despite an illness that made it difficult for her to speak after a long weekend of volleyball.
"Oh yeah that was (fun volleyball)," Meehan said. "And especially against Veronica (Snelling) on the right side. She's got some really hard swings and with Barnes there was great defense on both sides. It's a great start to the season and I'm really excited to start it with these girls."
Final Results and All-Tournament Team