By Larry Moko, Special to the News
The pre-game prediction by coach Henry Stachurski of the Cardinal Newman Cardinals proved to be right on the money.
"I knew it would be a battle between the two strong players, Joanna (Jedrzejewska) and Rachel (Todd)," Stachurski said after Newman's 3-1 victory over the visiting Cathedral Gaels in a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior girls' volleyball semifinal playoff Wednesday.
Jedrzejewska was the dominant player for the Gaels, while Todd sparked the attack for the first-place Cardinals.
In the other semifinal, the third-place Bishop Ryan Celtics travelled to St. Mary and topped the second-place Crusaders, 3-1. That sets up a league final Friday afternoon at Newman (TBA) between the Celtics and the Cardinals.
"I just believe we were the more balanced team in the end," Stachurski said. "In volleyball, you have to rely on six players. One player can't carry the load. All our kids responded to the challenge."
Newman, which finished on top of the tightly-bunched standings with a record of 12-2, downed the fifth-place Gaels by scores of 25-14, 14-25, 25-20, 25-20.
"They gave us a good run," said Todd, a left-side player and captain who was particularly effective with her powerful jump serves. "I think our defense improved as the game continued. At the beginning, it was kind of shaky."
Todd also plays at the club level for Eclipse West in Toronto.
Despite the loss, the Gaels proved a point this season. "We've been at the bottom as a team for the past 10 years," said Jedrzejewska, a Grade 12 student whose brother Pawel coaches the Gaels. "For us to get to the semifinals was a shock. And we took them to four today. They're a good team."
Jedrzejewska was sidelined for six games with a shoulder injury early in the season. The Gaels were 1-7 out of the gate but started climbing the standings when she returned to action.
Cathedral finished with an overall 6-8 mark before eliminating the fourth-place Brebeuf Braves in the opening playoff round.
"All we really wanted was to show people the strength of Cathedral volleyball," Jedrzejewska said.
Jedrzejewska's brothers Marcin and Bart play volleyball for the Mohawk Mountainers, while Pawel has committed to attend McMaster next season and play libero for the Marauders.
Joanna also plays for the Lakeside Volleyball Club in Oakville.
"My brothers have always been mentors to me," Jedrzejewska said. "Our whole life is volleyball. We practise in the alleyway behind our house. And every time we're injured we help each other through the healing process, especially when we get back. We go to the local gym and serve at each other when one of us is struggling."
In the other semifinal, the Crusaders jumped on top with a 25-23 victory in the opening set before the Celtics rallied to take the next three, 25-21, 28-26, 25-20. Both teams were 11-3 during the regular schedule.
"It was close right to the end," Celtics coach Mario Crnic said. "Our captains Kirsten Bialachowski (middle) and Vicky Golebiowski (left side) played a solid game. They were taking the lead for us today along with our setter, who provided them with some good opportunities to hit the ball."
Bishop Ryan and Newman split their two earlier meetings this season. The Celtics won 3-2 on Dec. 13 and the Cardinals prevailed 3-0 on Feb. 5.
"We were in first place for three-quarters of the season but then we dropped down to third," Crnic said.