By Lee Davis
Lucy Hart had a feeling.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association scheduled the Class 6A volleyball championship to be played on Thursday, Oct. 30. That fact alone made it a huge day for Hart and her John Carroll Catholic teammates, who would be playing for the title that afternoon.
But Thursday mornings are always special for the school on Lakeshore Drive. It’s the day for the school-wide Morning Mass.
“We have Mass every Thursday, but the team had it on game day at St. Peter’s (in Hoover) instead of the school,” Hart said. “It was very inspirational. It helped me focus and get ready.”
If the Celebration of Mass itself wasn’t enough, some extra incentive came at the end.
“There were some really sweet older ladies at the Mass, including some Sisters,” said Hart, a senior. “They recognized us as the volleyball team and hugged us and wished us well and talked about how much they loved John Carroll. If we had needed anything more to fire us up, that did it. I knew it was going to be our time to win.”
Hart’s feelings were not only inspired, they were accurate. John Carroll went on to rout Pelham 25-21, 25-12, 25-19 in the Elite Eight at the Birmingham Crossplex to claim its first state volleyball title since 1997.
The victory was particularly sweet coming against the Lady Panthers, who had defeated the Lady Cavs in three of the teams’ previous five meetings.
“It feels so good to win, and what a way to end my senior year,” Hart said. “We really peaked at the right time, and were very confident going in.”
Hart was also eager to give credit to John Carroll’s students and fans, who turned the Crossplex into a sea of the school’s colors of green and white.
“Our crowd was amazing,” she said. “We had a lot more people there than Pelham did. Our people were loud and supportive. I think Pelham may have been a little intimidated.”
But of course, it was the players on the court that made the biggest difference of all. Hart’s sister Mary Catherine, a sophomore, had four block assists to be named Most Valuable Player of the Elite Eight. Kelsi Hobbs had 15 kills. Anna Runyan had 21 assists, while Ella Vaughn followed with 16. Ellen Willett had three assists.
Pelham started the match on a high note, moving to an early 3-0 lead in the first set, but fell behind 13-9 and never regained the initiative. Carroll easily dominated the second set. In the third set, Pelham was competitive at the midway point before the Lady Cavs seized the momentum at the end.
“Our blocks were good today,” Hobbs said. “We were mentally ready. Once we got a pass, we set it and put it away immediately.”
Mary Catherine Hart said she didn’t expect to receive MVP honors.
“I never really thought about it until they called my name,” she said. “This was a team victory, and by team I mean not just our players and coaches but everyone associated with our school, including our students and fans.”
John Carroll completed the season with a 40-8 record after spending much of the year ranked No. 1 in the Class 6A polls. Morgan Adamson represented the Lady Cavs on the All-Tournament team along with Hobbs and Mary Catherine Hart.
The younger Hart said the key to the team’s success was simple.
“Each time we played we got a little better,” she said. “Even when we lost, we tried to learn from it and improve. And finally it climaxed in the championship with the victory.”
The win was also sweet for Lady Cav coach Ginny Massa, a John Carroll alumna who played on the 1996 state title team. Massa said the feeling this time was different, and if anything, it was more special this time around.
“It’s not quite the same to experience this (the championship) as an adult,” Massa said. “It’s a unique experience when you’re giving your heart on the court like our girls did, and you’re the one basically like a parent, watching them from the side.”
Even before the championship celebration ended, Mary Catherine Hart was getting questions about the team’s prospects for next season.
“Oh, I totally expected that,” she said, laughing. “As soon as you win one championship, people immediately start asking you about winning the next one. I just tell them we’re going to keep working hard and try to make John Carroll volleyball a dynasty.”
Meanwhile, Lucy Hart was having an interesting overall week as well. The day after the Lady Cavs won their state title, she was elected the school’s homecoming queen. And the success apparently rubbed off on the John Carroll football team, which defeated Springville 6-3 to earn its first win of the season.
Even the normally modest Lucy Hart admitted she’d had an unforgettable few days.
“It was such an honor to be named homecoming queen, but winning the state championship was even better,” she said. “I guess this is one of those weeks I’ll remember as I get older.”
Hart and her teammates will also probably remember how the heavy dose of inspiration at Mass and the passion of the John Carroll community helped bring their school trophy case a glittering new prize.