STEUBENVILLE - With no regular-season meeting against Madonna to use as a template, St. John head volleyball coach Carrie Ramsay was somewhat at a loss heading into Saturday evening's Class 1A championship match at the OVAC Volleyball Tournament.
But sometimes what you don't know can't hurt you. And that proved to be the case as the Irish came out of The Crimson Center with a cherished 25-17, 25-22 victory and program's first crown since 2010.
''It feels like a dream,'' said Ramsay, the first-year coach moments after posing for a team photo with her players and the championship trophy.
Members of the St. John volleyball team celebrate their victory Saturday night.
''Right now, I'm just pinching myself.''
It was the fourth championship in school history and Ramsay became the fourth different coach to lead the Irish to a title. Chuck Probst coached the 1997 winners, while Donnie Murray and Ron Kelly led the 2009-2010 champs, respectively.
''I knew we had a lot of talent,'' said Ramsay, who had her grandparents in her thoughts as they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary without her.
''I knew that as long as we kept our heads in the match we'd be up there and we really did it (Saturday). I just knew we could do it.''
After virtually being blown out in the first game of the semifinal match against Paden City upstairs in the Joseph Stern Gymnasium, the Irish stormed back to win the final two games there and then carried over that momentum to the final.
''That was a major turning point,'' Ramsay said.
Especially on such a big stage.
''At the beginning of the year I thought they would fall apart (in a situation like that). But they kept their heads in the match, picked each other up when they needed to and got the job done.
''We played our hearts from then on. I'm very proud of them.''
Caitlin Sliva led a balanced attack for the Irish, scoring nine points and having six kills. Amber LaMotte and Emily LeMasters each scored five points, Sydney Helms had 11 assists, Jessica Alvey had eight kills and Karlee Vostatek had seven assists.
''It takes everyone when you win a championship,'' Ramsay said.
Amanda Paul had 13 digs for the Blue Dons, while Chloe Connor dished out 12 assists and Monica Bragg had nine kills.
The only lead Madonna mustered in the first game was 1-0. Then, in the second, it never led. But it did forge four ties and kept things close throughout. But, like in its match against Paden City, St. John showed its mettle and stood strong when it had to.
''We weren't quite sure what to expect (from Madonna),'' Ramsay said. ''But everyone stepped up to the plate, all contributed and played well.''
The Irish (18-4) hit the Division IV sectional tournament trail starting Tuesday with a match against Bridgeport at 5:30 p.m. at Barnesville High School.
Ramsay said the OVAC title certainly came at the right time.
''It's huge,'' she said. ''We needed that confidence and now they know they can perform at this level. I think it will guide us.''
Trinity d. Paden City
25-23, 23-25, 26-24
Jensen Scott had 12 points and six digs and Marlee Keenan had 11 points and 10 kills as Trinity edged Paden City for third place.
Julie Williams added 13 points for Trinity.
Taylor Cosper had 16 points and 24 assists for the Wildcats. Myah Charkawi added 14 points, Megan Pierce had 12 points, Haley Hizer collected 11 points and eight kills and Graeson Baker recorded 10 points and eight kills.
St. John d. Paden City
10-25, 25-16, 25-19
Lindsee Parry had 10 points and seven digs as St. John rallied past Paden City.
Helms added seven points and six assists, while LaMotte and Sliva each had five points.
Cosper scored 20 points and had 17 kills for the Wildcats, while Pierce had 12 points.
Madonna d. Trinity
20-25, 25-19, 25-14
Connor amassed 18 assists and Paul had 15 digs as Madonna got past Trinity.
Bragg added 10 kills for the Blue Dons.
Scott scored 13 points for Trinity, while Keenan and Hannah Vecchio each scored 12 points.