STOUGHTON, Mass. – At one point in the fourth set it looked like Foxboro was going to cruise to its first win of the season, but Stoughton turned things around, winning eight straight points. The pressure was on the Warriors to avoid having to go to a fifth set and head coach Vicki Santana called a timeout to settle down her team.
“Telling them to get pumped up and stay loud,” Santana said. “It’s hard without the fans this year, especially having just the fans for another team is even harder. Our bench has been great, they’ve been screaming their heads off and that’s really helping.”
The pep talk and instruction worked, as Foxboro regained its composure and was able to hold off Stoughton’s charge to seal a 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-12, 25-21) road victory.
Despite the defeat, first-year coach Felecia Baptista was proud of her team’s fight in the fourth set, battling back from 21-7 down to get as close as three points.
“I feel like we were communicating really well,” she explained. “We just have to stay upbeat. They like to be the underdogs a little too much and we need to start showing what we can do right from the beginning.”
In the first set, it was Foxboro that had to battle back. Stoughton started well and, after kills by Camille Firmin and Shanice Landrum and an ace from Rhuan Oliveira, the Black Knights held a 13-10 lead. The Warriors won seven of the next eight points, including kills by Emma Keefe and Mallorie Meyer, to grab the lead.
Stoughton answered with a block by freshman Annilia Eschleman to get within one, 18-17, but then Keefe had a big swing and back-to-back aces to put Foxboro up by four. A kill for Jessie Queeney and an ace by Patrik Oliveira kept Stoughton close, but Meghan Murphy found a seam in the Black Knights defense and Shannon McDonald capped the set with a kill and a block.
The second set was back-and-forth with neither team able to build more than a three-point advantage. After a net violation put Foxboro up 20-17, Stoughton was finally able to make a run. Rhuan Oliveira served out the set, winning eight straight points, including four aces and kills from Queeney and Eschleman.
“We’re so good, we just have to show it more on the court,” said Baptista. “They like to be challenged and they get a little too quiet when things aren’t going their way. We’ve just got to stay strong. When we were out of rotation a couple of times, I just immediately called timeout because they can get in their heads so bad when that happens.”
Momentum didn’t carry over into the third for the hosts. Foxboro snagged control of the set early on, taking advantage of a couple rotation errors by the Black Knights. Setter Sarah Regan dropped a shot in between a pair of Black Knights and then fired an ace, as Foxboro built an 11-3 lead.
Stoughton managed to fight back and cut the lead to five but that was as close as it would get in the third. Murphy was stellar on the outside for the Warriors with five kills in the set and McDonald restored Foxboro’s lead in the match with a kill to seal it.
Foxboro has had some battles this season, including a hard-fought four-set match with unbeaten Oliver Ames last week and a five-set match with Sharon in the opening week. At the start of the fourth set, it looked like the Warriors were trying to avoid any drama and put the first win on the board.
Foxboro’s team defense was superb at times. Regan, Pam Nelson, Grace Fortune, and libero Kelsey Treweek consistently kept plays alive, giving the front line more chances to swing and also putting a lot of pressure on Stoughton.
“They don’t give up,” Santana said about her defense. “They’re always ready and they always make that last-minute save you don’t think anyone’s going to get. They run into the bleachers, they run into the net, wherever they can and that’s definitely what keeps us in games. They’re a really strong group.”
Keefe was also having a solid night at the service line. She rattled off seven straight points, including three straight on aces, and the Warriors led 17-6. A McDonald block and rotation error had Stoughton behind 21-7 and seemingly ready to look ahead to Wednesday’s rematch.
Instead, the Black Knights turned the set around. It started with a kill by Iago Bonfirm off the top of the net. Rhuan Oliveira followed with back-to-back aces and Landrum rose up for a big kill. After four straight aces by Oliveira, Santana was forced into a timeout with the lead down to 21-15.
Santana explained, “With some of the stronger servers that they have, the topspin serve is coming with a lot of power and you can’t be moving when that’s happening and you can’t be swinging your arms. I just told them to get their arms under it and it will go up to the target.”
Foxboro recovered and got back to its strong serve-receive game. The teams traded points and, after another rally, Meyer clinched the win with quick thinking at the net and an accurate hit.
“It feels really good,” said Santana. “It’s tough coming off last year where we had one of the first winning seasons in a while and then to start this season down and we know we don’t have that many games, so finally getting it together today and hopefully we can carry that into Wednesday.”
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