URBANA — On consecutive points, Tera Sackey made powerful blocks on Wootton’s top two offensive threats, igniting a surge of energy that seemed to be propelling Urbana’s volleyball team to yet another victory.
The big hitters Sackey turned away at the net, Itxaso Ezcurra-Taiganides and Elizabeth Hsieh, certainly proved impactful in Wednesday’s Class 4A West Region II final, but a deep supporting cast gave the Patriots the necessary firepower needed to topple an undefeated team.
Wootton’s depth was on full display in the third and fourth sets of a 25-23, 21-25, 26-24, 25-16 victory that ended Urbana’s season.
Sackey’s consecutive blocks gave Urbana a 24-20 lead in the second set, and she then emerged as a strong offensive force in the third set. With Trinity Burge and Tatiana Johnson combining to feed Sackey a series of quick sets, the senior middle blocker strung together four quick kills to give Urbana (16-1) a 15-11 advantage.
From that point on, however, six different players recorded at least one kill for a Wootton team that chipped away at its deficit before eventually overtaking the Hawks, as Ezcurra-Taiganides broke a 24-24 tie by pounding kills on back-to-back points.
“That’s what has gotten us all of our wins this year,” Patriots coach Mary Malinauskas said of her depth. “If Itxaso or Elizabeth isn’t having a great day, I’ve got a ton of kids who just come in and do their job.”
Malinauskas specifically singled out Wootton’s Iris Guo, saying the Patriots reserve has had “limited playing time” this season. Guo chipped in two kills in the fourth set, when five different Wootton players each recorded at least one kill.
“That makes it really difficult on the other team to key on my big hitters because you never know who the next big hitter is going to be,” Malinauskas said.
Hsieh finished with 14 kills, and Ezcurra-Taiganides had 12 for the Patriots, who beat an Urbana team that dropped just five sets all season outside of its participation in the Mason-Dixon Invitational — a tournament that featured best-of-three-set matches.
The trio of Penelope Hiepler, Cathryn Diaz and Sophia Bongiorno contributed strong back-row defense, helping to extend numerous rallies, but Wootton’s attack remained relentless.
“They’re very well-rounded,” Burge said of Wootton. “They’re actually pretty similar to us, and I think that was kind of our downfall. We’ve been used to teams with one massive hitter that we could work around, but Wootton was an all-around team.”
As they’ve done all season, Burge and Johnson fueled a dynamic 6-2 system in which they share setting responsibilities. In many cases, one player often delivered a set to the other. Burge tallied 13 kills, 14 assists and three digs while Johnson collected nine kills, 17 assists, six digs and two aces.
Meanwhile, Sackey finished with six kills and seven blocks, and Natasha White had three aces.
“They fought hard, and it was a heck of a run,” Urbana coach Jerry Burge said. “They had a great season. I was proud of them.”