It was a test second-seeded Hannan knew would come against a veteran team in third-seeded Notre Dame, which had been to the championship before.
The Hawks raced out to a 2-0 lead in games before the Pioneers fought back to force the match into a fifth and deciding game, and they emerged with a 3-2 victory and a berth in the Division IV championship against the winner of top-seeded defending champion Pope John Paul II and fourth-seeded Sacred Heart.
Last season, Hannan (35-7) entered the Pontchartrain Center as a fifth seed and fell to fourth-seeded University Lab in four games. This time, things are different.
"The first two games were awesome for us, and our energy was at a high level," Hannan's Tatum Ballard said. "Notre Dame is a really good offensive team and we had to rely on our defense. We'd never made it this far, and we want to keep it going."
Ballard kept the offense going with 49 assists, while Haley Cabecceiras had 26 kills while Allee Morris added 14. Four players, including Ballard, had at least 17 digs (Daniel Loup, Cabeccieras and Mikayla Boyer).
Grace Morgan paced the Pioneers with 30 kills and Anne Faulk followed with 15, while Sammi Leger guided the offense with 51 assists. Mackenzie Habetz was the defensive leader with 39 digs; Leger added 18.
Notre Dame came out playing at a high level, but Hannan was a step ahead, committing just four errors in the first game. The Hawks closed it out, 25-23, and their confidence began to soar even higher.
In the second game, Hannan was able to absorb scoring surges with a formidable wall at the net, finishing it off, 25-21.
Seemingly in control and on the way to a possible sweep, the veteran-laden Pioneers found a comfort zone and began mounting a comeback, taking the lead for good in game three at 9-8, and never looking back, taking it 25-18.
"We were ready to play in the beginning, and came out very strong," Morris said. "In the third and fourth games, we struggled a bit, but got our confidence back."
Notre Dame looked even stronger in the fourth game, extending a lead beyond 10 points, winning 25-15 to force the fifth and deciding game.
"Experience was the difference," Hannan coach Rebekka Bonnaffee said. "Our girls wanted the win very much, and they knew what it was all about. Before the last game, I reminded them that they could do it. And, they responded."
Thumbnail photo by Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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