When St. Viator fell behind 9-1 in the opening game of Tuesday's boys volleyball match against perennial power Marist, it looked like it was going to be a long night for the host Lions.
"To be honest," said Viator senior Matt Michalik, "I felt like this one was getting away from us."
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But the Lions refused to let the game slip away -- instead, in an inspired performance, they took control and shocked the visiting Redhawks 25-22, 15-25, 25-19 in an upset that approached David vs. Goliath proportions.
Six-foot-3 senior middle hitter Tom Aichele led the way for the Lions with 7 kills in what St. Viator coach Chris Boylan called the "most important victory for the program since 2005," when the team won a regional title.
Marist, a two-time state champion with their latest crown coming just two years ago, started the match as if the outcome would not be in doubt.
But the Lions wouldn't fold, and a stirring rally saw them claim a 1-game lead.
"We got some blocks, got a few points and then just kept on rolling," said Viator senior libero Brian Stewart, who had 11 digs. "We knew we had to keep fighting if we wanted to pull out a win."
Marist rebounded to take Game 2, but Viator grabbed the momentum back behind the service of setter Brennan Harrington to score the first 7 points of the deciding set.
Two intimidating block kills by Aichele sparked the Lions in the middle of Game 3, and although Marist was able to close to within 20-16 at one point, Viator persevered and the celebration began in earnest whin freshman middle hitter Ryan Schiller put down the game-winning kill.
The Lions improved to 12-10, and 3-1 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
"This was huge," said Aichele. "We were down early, and sometimes when that happens, we have a tendency to stay down.
"But I have to give a lot of credit tonight to the guys on the bench. Their enthusiasm got us excited and got us back into the match."
Harrington finished 65-of-66 setting with 21 assists and was 23-of-23 on service. Michalik had 16 digs and 6 kills on 15-of-18 hitting while Schiller added 3 clutch kills, including the final one.
Ben Wolf (11-of-11) and Stewart (11-of-11) added to St. Viator's nearly perfect effort from the service line, as the Lions missed only 2 serves all evening.
"Our blocking was also big tonight," said Boylan. "We've been working on pressing over the net on our block for awhile in practice, especially yesterday, and it paid off today."
"These guys have great camaraderie this season," added Boylan. "They work hard on and off the court, they enjoy each other's company, and they enjoy the game -- they love volleyball."