Photos by Jeff Vorva
Marist fans heckle Mother McAuley’s Charley Niego as she waits for the ball to drop for a pass Tuesday night. The junior was a target all night but her 12 kills helped lead the Macs to a two-set victory over their neighborhood rival.
Charley Niego may be committed to Notre Dame, and she may be descended from Mother McAuley volleyball royalty, but when she’s in the Marist gym, the Mighty Macs junior is simply a target.
Or maybe, because of all the aforementioned, she’s the main target.
That’s why, though she’d already put down five kills midway through Tuesday’s first set, the fans in the Marist student section leaped at the chance presented by her first miss, a cannonading blast that went long to pull the RedHawks within 16-14.
“Overrated! Overrated!” they chanted.
Niego, daughter of McAuley legend Therese Boyle, whose number was brought out of retirement so Niego could wear it, heard.
"Yeah, it was funny,” she said.
Of course, that was easy to say once Niego had the last laugh. She responded with a team-high 12 kills as the Macs, extending a streak dating to 2012, won their sixth straight over their neighborhood rivals, 25-19, 25-18, in front of a standing-room crowd estimated at 1,800.
“Great players block that stuff out,” Niego said. “Then they prove (the hecklers) wrong. It’s awesome to play in front of this big of a crowd."
Though Central Michigan-bound junior Savannah Thompson had four kills in a six-point span immediately after Niego’s miss to tie the opening set at 18, Niego had kills for the final three points — knocking a Marist defender off her feet with the first swing, blasting through a block for the second and going soft down the line to close it out.
McAuley’s power — Kaitlyn O’Connell, another 6-footer and heavy hitter, finished with eight kills — was the difference in a match where the hitting errors were few and digs plentiful.
O'Connell had 45 kills in five matches at last weekend's Louisville (Ky.) Invitational, where the Macs went 4-1.
“I think I was able to kick it up to another gear,” O’Connell said. “The team got on me early because I wasn’t doing so good.”
In the second set, O’Connell had two solo blocks and a kill in a 7-0 McAuley run to put the Macs up 12-10. They never trailed again.
“There was a lot of good defense being played on both sides,” McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “It makes for an exciting match.”
And a tight one.
McAuley’s biggest lead of the night came on match point, in a set in which Marist managed its biggest advantage, at 10-5.
“We just didn’t finish the points,” first-year Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “It’s frustrating. If we could finish off some of that defensive effort with kills …
"We couldn't get out points in big enough bunches, like we're used to doing."
Thompson finished with six kills, all in the first set, and added 13 digs. Maggie Meyer led the RedHawks (9-3) with eight kills and six service points, while Grace Green had 16 digs and Molly Murrihy had 23 assists.
Libero Emma Reilly and Niego led McAuley (10-1) with 12 digs each, while sophomore setter Nancy Kane had 27 assists and matched O’Connell with seven digs.
“We were a little tentative tonight playing in front of the neighborhood crowd,” DeJarld said. “Big matches in full gyms like this will prepare us for state. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Tell it to the Marist student section — last heard chanting, “Let’s play football …”