Experience Carries KP to Place In State Title Game

King Philip Volleyball
King Philip swept Melrose, its fourth 3-0 win in the postseason, to secure the program’s first ever spot in the D2 state title game. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

Josh PerryFollowJoshPerry

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – Trailing 7-2 at the start of the second set, King Philip was struggling to find the same energy that they started Wednesday night’s Div. 2 state semifinal with, but the Warriors were hardly going to panic. Instead of rushing and trying to get back into the set on one play, KP stuck to its plan.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Melrose was playing well and led 13-7 in the second, but the Warriors went on an 8-2 run to tie the set. Even after the Redhawks regained the lead with back-to-back points, KP seemed unperturbed and won 10 of the next 13 points to go up 2-0 in the match.

The benefit of having six players who were part of last year’s Final Four run was never more apparent. KP would hold off Melrose in the third set, winning 3-0 (25-18, 25-20, 25-22) at Framingham High to advance to the program’s first ever state championship game.

“I think the six of them who had been here last year definitely came with experience, they knew what expect all along,” said KP coach Kristen Geuss. “It was a total team effort. They have been giving 110 percent since day one. They had their sights set very high, I couldn’t be happier for them to get this far and they’re still working and giving 100 percent in practice every day.”

“We already knew the feeling going into the game and I think that made us want to push even more because of how the game went last year,” said senior hitter Ahunna James. “Reliving all those memories, and even rewatching our game from last year, we were really prepared and knew what we had to fix.”

KP came into the night on a seven-game win streak, having not dropped a set since a loss to Attleboro almost exactly a month ago. In the opening set on Wednesday, the Warriors kept rolling right along.

Emily Sawyer (14 kills) dropped a tip over the block and then had back-to-back kills. Kate O’Neil followed with a block, which forced an early Melrose timeout, and a big swing to put the Warriors in front 7-2. KP wouldn’t allow Melrose any closer than four points for the remainder of the set.

The front line of Sawyer, James, Sami Shore, and Olivia and Kate O’Neil was just too deep for the Redhawks on both sides of the net. KP was creating points with the block and overpowering Melrose at the net. The spark for KP’s fast start on attack was the play of setter Kiera Hagen, whose consistent passing and her defense on the back line (along with libero Ava Kelley) gave the hitters plenty of chances to swing.

Olivia O’Neil served consecutive aces and then won a third service point to extend the lead out to 10. After Melrose cut it back down to six, Kate O’Neil smacked one off the block for a point and Sawyer got a point on her serve. The Redhawks kept battling, but James (seven digs) had a block and a pair of kills to seal the first set.

KP had the momentum and seemed to be in complete control, but the Warriors were sluggish to start the second set and the Redhawks took advantage behind impressive outside hitter Gia Vlajkovic. Melrose led 7-2 and 13-7 and were dominating play at the net, with Chloe Gentile and Anna Shoemaker both getting blocks and points in the middle.

The Warriors never looked bothered by the early deficit, trusting that they would eventually go on a run and pull themselves back into the set. Shore had a kill and Sawyer an ace to cut the lead to just one at 15-14, forcing a Melrose timeout, before another pinpoint Sawyer serve tied things up.

A block from Sadie Jaggers put the Redhawks back up by two, but Shore snuck a swing inside the back line and then also hit one down into the block to tie things at 18-18. James fired an ace and Olivia O’Neil went cross-court with angled swing to go up two. Sawyer would make it a three-point lead with a hit that the officials ruled was tipped. The Sacred Heart-commit added a block and another big swing to close things out and make it 2-0.

“I think we were a lot more fragile last year,” James explained. “During practice we tried yelling at each other when we started serving and just trying to send ourselves into that fragile moment, so when we were in that moment in the match we’d get out of it.”

Geuss said, “To see them come back is phenomenal. They just need to believe in what they can do and I think if they can just keep the pressure on, play their game, I think that’s hugely important.”

KP made sure to get off to a much better start to the third, jumping ahead 7-1. Shore and James went back-to-back with swings to extend the lead to 10-4 and Sawyer ended a long rally with a kill. Hagen dropped in an ace to make it 18-10 and it looked like the Warriors were going to cruise into the final.

Credit to Melrose, the Redhawks made sure to add a little drama to the third set, going on a 9-2 run to cut the lead down to just one. Ava McSorley had a couple of aces and Leah Fowke had one during the run. Shore stepped up in the big moment, recording a block and then a kill to make it 22-19.

When asked about how much fun it is to play with Sawyer and Shore along the front line, James said, “It’s really nice because if one of the three of us is down, we know there’s always someone who can help us get out of that moment. The three of us are always watching each other’s backs.”

After Melrose took the next two points, Missy Canning got into the act with a kill. O’Neil added a swing from the outside and Canning closed out the match with a swing from the right that the Redhawks couldn’t run down, sealing KP’s progress to the final day of the season.

“It’s just so amazing for us,” Shore said. “We really wanted it last year but that gave us more motivation to come out this year and take it.”

She added, “We’re definitely on an upward track right now. It feels amazing to know that we made a little part of KP history and we’re excited for a chance to play for the state championship.”

King Philip (22-2) will play for the Div. 2 state title on Saturday at 12:30 at Worcester State against unbeaten top seed Westboro.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Follow Me