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St. John’s Prep girls’ first title since 1988

St. John’s Prep celebrates its championship victory over Loughlin. Photo by Marc Raimondi
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It was the set that didn’t want to end.

St. John’s Prep would go ahead. Then Bishop Loughlin would get two points and take a lead.

That pattern was repeated multiple times until Paola Sirica stepped in to serve with things tied up. The St. John’s Prep senior put together two straight service points, including an ace to end a marathon, pivotal third set.

“I was shaking literally afterward,” Sirica said. “I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe we pulled through that.”

It gave the Red Storm all the momentum they needed. St. John’s Prep went on to beat Bishop Loughlin 25-14, 23-25, 30-28, 25-19 in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division II championship game Thursday night in Astoria.

The title is SJP’s first in girls’ volleyball in 23 years. Senior Maria Barbarino said every day in practice she’ll look up at that last banner and it would fuel her throughout the season. Now she and her teammates will have one of those to call their own.

“We haven’t had a banner since ’88,” Barbarino said. “We wanted our banner this year. That was our goal.”

It was the pint-sized outside hitter who took matters into her own hands in the fourth set. With the score knotted at 17, Barbarino had five of her 11 kills down the stretch, including the final two to give her team the championship. The 5-foot sprite with the impressive vertical leap just pounded every ball that came her way over the net, even on the first or second bounce.

“It did catch them off guard,” Barbarino said. “You get used to how people play, you see how they set up the ball and you know where they’re going.”

Barbarino added four aces and Sirica had four kills and five aces. Matea Turkovic had five blocks and senior Annalise Sinnona had nine kills and was instrumental early in the match. The outside hitter is just in her second year playing volleyball.

“She’s really come into her own with being able to look across the court and seeing the empty spots and placing it there,” SJP Coach Jenn Cocchi said.

This was Cocchi’s first title in 14 seasons at the helm of the Red Storm. She will guide St. John’s into the CHSAA Class A state tournament next week at Cardinal Spellman for the second straight year. SJP was also very competitive at the Division I level, beating powerhouse Archbishop Molloy two years ago, before the league split last season.

“It meant just as much to us as it did to her,” Barbarino said of her coach. “I think winning it for her was the biggest thing.”

Cocchi was emotional afterward as was the Bishop Loughlin players. The Lions wanted to win a championship for their coach, Angela Proce, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and returned over the summer cancer-free. Cocchi, who is also the league’s girls’ volleyball chairwoman, and Proce met in a long embrace after the match as tears streamed down Loughlin players’ faces.

It was an even match that turned, Cocchi said, in that wild third set.

“I felt that the way the energy of the game was, if we lost that we probably may have lost the match,” the coach said. “The energy was so intense that if we didn’t come through on that, we probably would have had a lot of problems coming back.”

Their only problem now is deciding where to put the new banner.

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