The Panthers, reigning champions of the Kelley-Rex division, and the Bulldogs, who won their eighth Davenport crown last season, went back-and-forth, trading wins in the first two sets before Canton pulled away for a 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18) win.
Over the course of the first three sets, the teams were never separated by more than six points, and only once in each set did the lead reach that high. And the leads all came early as the teams were within a point (19-18) in all three of those sets.
After the Bulldogs finished the third set with a 7-4 run to get a 2-1 lead in the match, they came out and played their best set in the fourth game to clinch the win.
“I think we played the best [in the fourth game] because we had confidence because we were up 2-1, and we were in the driver’s seat,” said Canton head coach Pat Cawley. “We played better because we had that confidence. It was a great match, it could have gone either way easily. I felt like both teams were pretty evenly matched.”
After an even start to the fourth set, the Bulldogs pulled ahead after putting pressure on the Panthers’ defense, forcing a couple of errors. Claire Quinn (nine kills, five aces) came up with a big dig on a Franklin hit that helped Canton keep the play alive and eventually win the point to go up 12-5.
After Franklin closed the gap some, Franklin rattled off a quick 6-3 burst that featured a kill from Liz Bickett (10 kills, three blocks) and an ace from Olivia Chinsen to take a commanding 20-10 lead, the largest of the entire match.
The Panthers battled back to make it a six-point game at 22-16 but Bickett dropped in another kill and Taylor Harris (23 kills) slammed down the final point with a kill.
“I think at too many times we let an error turn into two, and then two errors turn into another one,” said Franklin head coach Kelsey Weymouth. “And that seemed to take a hit on our confidence. We’re inconsistent right now, and we have a young team with some inexperience at some spots.”
Canton built a slight lead in the opening set as Harris slammed a shot down the line to go up 8-4, and Bickett tipped a ball over for a kill for a 10-5 lead. Another Harris kill gave the Bulldogs a 15-6 lead but Franklin rallied to make it a one-point game on an ace from Allyson Bonnet-Eymard (nine kills, 11 digs) at 18-17.
The Bulldogs finished strong with Bickett and Harris getting kills, sandwiched around an ace from Quinn for a 25-20 win.
“Taylor is a reliable option,” Cawley said. “She’s coming into her own, feeling the pressure a little bit of being the senior leader on the team. But we’re trying to take that pressure off of her because we have some good options. She’s doing a nice job, you know, if she makes an error she comes back strong.”
Franklin evened the match with a win in the second set. The Panthers jumped ahead 20-18 on back-to-back Canton errors but the Bulldogs rallied by winnings five of the next six points to take a 23-21 lead. A pair of errors helped Franklin pull level, sophomore Cailyn Mackintosh (30 assists) landed an ace to put the Panthers ahead, and Bridget Jackson (11 kills, three aces, two blocks) slammed down a hard kill to even the match at 1-1.
Bonnet-Eymard and Harris traded back-to-back kills early in the third set, the latter from Harris putting the Bulldogs up 12-7. After a Franklin timeout, the Panthers rallied to tie the set (15-15) on a kill from Brigid Early and their first lead on an ace from Mackintosh. Harris landed two kills to give Canton a 21-18 lead but back-to-back Canton errors helped Franklin get within one at 22-21.
A service error, a kill from Quinn, another Franklin error, and another kill from Quinn secured a 25-22 win in the third set.
“Today was Claire’s first start of the year playing outside and she did a super job,” Cawley said. “Angie [Elias] usually plays outside but we put her at the weak side and I think that helped us a lot because she had a lot of touches on the block.
“We switched to a 5-1 [rotation] in the second set and I think it just took a little time getting used to having the one setter. All of the setters are new to varsity, but I think that changed worked for us because the kids seemed to know what to expect, and they didn’t have to figure out who was setting.”