The Bulldogs had been in this situation before. In fact, it was just a couple weeks ago when Canton hosted the Scarlet Hawks for their second regular season meeting. In that much, just like Wednesday’s showdown, Canton won the opening set in relatively convincing fashion.
During the October 20th showdown, the Scarlet Hawks rallied to win the second set.
On Wednesday night, after Cawley’s timeout, Canton erased a six point deficit with a 14-2 run and went on to win the second set, and then the third in impressive fashion to score a 3-0 win. With the win, Canton advances to the D2 Central Final for the second straight season.
“We came out strong in that first set, we were really on fire, working together and I think we threw [Milford] off their game a little bit,” Cawley said. “I reminded the girls about a couple weeks ago. Volleyball is like that – teams come out flat and can pick it up. Volleyball is never over until the end. I reminded them but we were still flat to start the second. I called the timeout to calm them down – it’s such a mental game. I told them to work one point at a time and to their credit, that’s what they did and then we went ahead.”
While Milford held a 12-6 lead, one of Casey Shea’s team-high nine kills sparked Canton’s run. An ace from Erika Lum tied the set at 12-12 and an ace from Julia Panico gave Canton its first lead of the set since the opening point at 14-13. Canton stretched its second set lead to 20-13 before Milford chipped away. The Scarlet Hawks won three straight points with the set on the line but a service error gave Canton a 25-20 win.
Canton started the match with a pair of kills, setting the tone for the rest of the way while also getting Canton’s crowd – “the best crowd we ever had in Cawley’s 16 years – into the match early on.
An ace from Maria Mackie forced Linda Zacchilli to call timeout with her squad down 10-4. Canton stretched the lead to double digits behind a pair of Milford errors but the Scarlet Hawks made a run at the end of the set to make it close. An ace from Ally Zagami brought Milford back within five (19-14) but Canton closed with a 6-2 run, punctuated by a block kill from Shea and outside hitter Hannah Jerrier.
Shea and fellow middle Emma Murphy (eight kills, three blocks, no errors) were the key pieces in Canton’s offense. Setter Nicole Poole (17 assists, 13 digs, two kills) spread the offense around nicely but the Scarlet Hawks struggled to stop Shea and Murphy in the middle.
“Our game plan this year is middles – they are our stronger players. Our outsides have come on stronger during the second half of the season too,” Cawley said. “There’s only one attacking player on this team that played significant last year at all, Emma Murphy in the middle. Casey Shea played on the weak side last year so we moved her to the middle.
“Everybody else is new so it’s been a learning process. In 20 matches, I’ve probably had 15 different lineups. It’s the epitome of team, we don’t really have any star players besides Nicole – she’s been our backbone, she’s awesome – everybody else contributes in whatever way they can.”
With the momentum of its side after winning the first two sets, Canton raced out to a quick 6-0 lead in the third set. A kill from Murphy and a kill from Shea sandwiched around a handful of Milford errors put the Bulldogs up 16-4.
At one point during the set, Canton had three straight attacks blocked, but each time had a player there to cover. It was that one play that showed how well Canton handled the match defensively.
“You’re going to win volleyball games by doing the small things, whether it’s covering the attack, picking up tips, chasing down balls – those are the things that win games,” Cawley said. “You can pound as much as you want but that can’t win a match on its own — it’s all the small things.”
Canton finished the final set with a 25-9 win, the majority of the Bulldogs’ early points come off errors from the Scarlet Hawks.
“It wasn’t our day, we really didn’t bring our ‘A’ game,” Zacchilli said. “And we have been playing very, very well lately – even in practice. We’ve been really sharp, the kids have been focused. I had said to my coaches I was surprised we hadn’t seen the deer in the headlights look in the first two playoff games because none of the kids have tournament experience. I saw that look tonight. There were some nerves out there and when you get to this point, everyone is good. They’re going to score their points, they’re going to get the ball to the floor but when we have our opportunity, we can’t hit it into the net, we can’t make unforced errors.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Canton, they played very well. But we made a lot of unforced errors on easy balls and hit a lot of balls into the net on good sets, which we haven’t been doing.”
In her first year back at the helm, Zacchilli was pleased with the first year – taking a team that missed the postseason a year ago to the D2 Central Semifinals.
“I’m very pleased with the season as a whole,” Zacchilli said. “The kids were great, the senior leadership has been amazing. I’m really glad I kept all of the seniors. Even the seniors that are more practice players, they helped to make this team. We had 10 kids in the rotation too and I normally don’t have that many but we had a lot of kids that deserved to be out on the floor. I don’t think there’s one player on the team that hasn’t made progress from day one until now and that’s what it’s all about.”
Canton volleyball will take on top-seeded Hopkinton (19-2) on Saturday, at 4:00 at Wellesley High School in the D2 Central Final.