CANTON, Mass. – Canton knew very little about its opponent in Thursday night’s Div. 2 Central semifinal, so it focused on its own game. That was more than enough, as the Bulldogs needed only an hour to dispatch of North Middlesex, rolling to a 3-0 (25-12, 25-12, 25-19) sweep and a return to the sectional final.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this season, the Hock was a very strong league and every day we had to work hard,” said Canton coach Pat Cawley. “So we’ve been through the trenches, we’ve had so much adversity this year that I think they’re just so happy to be here and just want to do as well as they can.”
Cawley was impressed with the way that her team remained focused on the task at hand, despite dominating the match from the start and despite watching Westboro and Ashland play a five-set thriller in the evening’s first semifinal.
“We’ve really been working on that a lot this year,” she added. “It’s hard in this sport, it’s such a game of momentum and subliminally you let up sometimes but we’ve really, really been working hard.”
The Bulldogs got off to a perfect start to the match, jumping out to a 13-5 lead in the first and using a number of different players in the attack. Claire Quinn (eight kills and 12 digs) had a couple pf early points, one at the service line and one at the net, Angie Elias had a block, and Shannon Malloy had a kill during that stretch.
Elias, Malloy, and Liz Bickett (five kills, three blocks, and three aces) were strong in the middle and limited North Middlesex senior Sara Murphy, who was the top threat for the Patriots.
Each time that the Patriots tried to cut into the lead in the first, Canton had an answer. Quinn picked the right spot on a kill to make it 18-9 and Bickett added an impressive block to make it 21-10. Taylor Harris (team-high 13 kills and 12 digs) smashed a kill to make it 22-11, followed by a pair of Bickett aces. Harris closed out the first with another rocket.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Cawley said about Canton’s performance. “Obviously Taylor Harris is an amazing player and we’re riding her back, but everybody else contributes and does her job. If everybody does their job, then the sky’s the limit really.”
The second set was a carbon copy of the first. Canton jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Harris was instrumental again on the outside, but the Bulldogs remained balanced thanks to the passing of setter Jackie Morrissey (21 assists and 12 digs). The Bulldogs never allowed the visitors to build any momentum in a 25-12 set.
North Middlesex stayed much closer in the third set, hanging around to the final point. Canton never led by more than five points in the third, until the final point of the match. Harris was unstoppable on the outside, with four kills in the set.
Canton (19-3) will face No. 4 seed Westboro in the Central final on Saturday at Wellesley High. The two teams last met in the 2015 final, which the Rangers won 3-0.
“We seem to run into them a lot. Westboro is a great team. They’re very well-coached, they have a lot of strong athletes, and they play a really tough schedule. They’re a fine-tuned machine. We’ll see what we can do on Saturday.”
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