Villa Walsh made the tense situation appear routine, reeling off five consecutive points to take the opening set, 26-24.
The second game wasn't nearly as dramatic as the Vikings prevailed 25-19 to wrap up the match and their fourth victory.
"It's anyone's game at any time," junior opposite Candace Pallitto said of Villa Walsh's spirited comeback. "We worked really hard."
"We never give up," said sophomore middle Anique Barch, whose play at the net had much to do with the rally in the first game. "We took timeouts to talk about what we were doing wrong. The breaks helped us not be so nervous. We didn't want to lose."
Barch, Villa Walsh's only club player, played a large role in four of the Vikings' last five points in the first game. She had three kills, including ones that provided the go-ahead and winning points. The shot that sealed the game was a beauty, landing on the back line.
The shot Barch (eight kills, eight digs) had to knot the score, 24-24, Barch considered "lucky." She had a dig in close proximity to the net. The ball made it over the net and was certainly playable but landed in the midst of several Pope John players.
"It looked like they could've gotten to the ball but they hesitated," said the 5-foot-9 Barch, a resident of Long Valley.
Barch employed power rather than a soft touch at crunch time.
"My mom tells me to keep swinging instead of making tips," she said.
Chrissy Clark, a junior, launched the last five serves for Villa Walsh, a first-year varsity program. Clark finished with five kills and two digs.
"The team is getting better with every match," Vikings coach Anneliese Yombor said. "They've amazed me. They're figuring things out. There wasn't much defense at first. We weren't getting low enough. Now, they're digging it up."
Pallitto, of Chatham, and Barch already know well the importance of taking the first game.
"We played better in the second game. We were more energized," said Pallitto (three aces, one kill, four digs).
"When you win the first set, there's so much less pressure," Barch said. "It's much easier to play."
Pope John (1-5) struggled after losing one of its starting setters, Alexandra Guido, to an eye injury before the match. With Guido unavailable, the Lions scrapped their usual 6-2 formation for a 5-1, meaning they'd use one setter instead of two. In the second game, they reverted to the 6-2. The second setter, though, hadn't played that position since last year.
"There was a little bit of confusion," Pope John coach Ken Sauter said. "We had people in new positions to cover the injury."
Standouts for the Lions were junior outside hitter Maureen Paglia (five digs), senior setter Katie Busanic (five aces), senior outside Alexandra Ratyniak (three kills) and junior middle Jamie Barton (four aces, one dig, one block).
Sauter had extra praise for Paglia and Barton, who had to know two positions. "They did their jobs," he said.
Villa Walsh has strung together four consecutive victories since falling to Parsippany in its first-ever varsity match. The Vikings aren't going to get carried away by their early season success.
"We've still got a long way to go," Pallitto said. "We have a good work ethic and will keep improving. The loss to Parsippany was good for us. It made us realize what we have to work on."