For the fifth straight year, St. John's volleyball Coach Bill Pribac took a spot in the back as his team gathered around a D.C. State Athletic Association banner and posed. As cameras flashed and parents took turns trying to direct all eyes in their direction, Pribac smiled. His team had just defeated Wilson, 25-19, 25-11, 19-25, 25-20, to renew its ownership of the DCSAA tournament title. With their win at Trinity Washington University on Friday, the Cadets remain the young event's one and only champion.
"We told everybody, ever since we won the second one, we've got a bull's eye on our back now," Pribac said. "They all try to knock us off, and we keep coming through."
This year, the Cadets (24-9) were led by senior setter Rebecca Frye, the tournament's MVP, and freshman outside hitter Rachel Richardson, who finished with 22 kills. Frye, a four-year contributor, helped the Cadets pull away in the first set with eight straight points on her serve and then paced the team in the fourth when it needed to take back the momentum after a lost third.
"Wilson really blindsided us. We had to work hard to win this one," Frye said.
Richardson had some of her biggest kills in the fourth set, helping the Cadets close it out. At 5-foot-9, she is not the prototypical outside hitter, but what she lacks in size she makes up for in athleticism.
"Great leaping ability, fantastic player," Pribac said. "She's going to be someone to be reckoned with for years to come."
On several sets from Frye, Richardson would leap high enough at least to get even with the Wilson blockers, who had their arms stretched above the net. Once up there, she would connect with virtually unstoppable speed and power.
"I'm aware of my height deficit, so when I'm not on the court, I'm working on my vertical. I'm working on my speed," Richardson said.
After the Cadets won the previous DCSAA titles with relative ease, it seemed that this year could be different. Wilson entered the match with a 34-2 record and as winners of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association. That league title is nothing new for the Tigers, who have won it 16 of the past 19 seasons. But after an impressive season in which they won a set against Holy Cross, the eventual Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion, the Tigers felt they finally had a shot to take the DCSAA crown from St. John's.
"We had to earn it a little bit more this year. They've got a really good team, and they pushed us," Pribac said. "It gets tougher every year to win it. This tournament is starting to get to a point where it's going to be really tough year in, year out."
For a freshman like Richardson, that only means more tense matches like this and more challenges standing in the way of continuing the streak.
"Yeah, the pressure's on now for three years," Richardson said.
Her hope is to be able to go out like her setter.
"All four years I've been a champion," Frye said. "To finish with a win like this, I couldn't ask for anything better."
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