By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
MEDWAY, Mass. – Canton hopes that the popular saying, “defense wins championships,” applies to volleyball as it does in so many other sports. The Bulldogs may not be the biggest or the hardest hitting team in Div. 2 Central, but they can frustrate opponents with the relentless ability to get the ball back over the net.
On Thursday night at Medway High, the Bulldogs showed off that defensive mentality against the host Mustangs and pulled out a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-20) win to advance to the Div. 2 Central final to face Westborough for the third time in the past four years.
The Bulldogs were led in the match by Hockomock MVP Elizabeth Hamilton, who showed off her athleticism and positioning to pick up 14 digs along with her team-high 15 kills. Many times, Medway’s leading hitter Jess Jubb thought she had another kill only to have Hamilton or libero Olivia Devoe (11 digs) keep the play alive.
“She’s just a super all-around player,” said Canton Pat Cawley about the MVP, “and we have relied on Elizabeth and Olivia all year for our defense. So, when good hitters hit angle and are hitting at those two I feel pretty good that we’re going to get a hand on it.”
The Bulldogs trailed only three times in the entire match (at 2-1 and 3-2 in the first set and 5-4 in the third), but Cawley did not feel like the Bulldogs were ever able to fully put away the hosts.
“To me it felt like it was close the entire way,” she explained. “We had the lead I think pretty consistently but we’d get up three, four, five, and then they’d get back within one or two.
“We had runs, but so did they right behind us.”
Canton jumped out to a good lead in the first behind the hitting of Hamilton, who had six of her 15 kills in the opening set. Following back-to-back aces by Rye Verille, the Bulldogs led by as many as eight points at 19-11. A pair of aces by Medway’s Sydney Rice cut the lead down to four but Hamilton rose up to spike the comeback and Canton took the opening set.
The second was very similar to the first with Sarah Reissfelder and Hamilton combining for three quick kills to give the Bulldogs the advantage. With the Medway crowd screaming and the Mustangs getting a little momentum, Hamilton dropped down to dig out what looked like a sure kill then hopped up and blasted a hit cross-court to make it 11-9.
Casey Shea also had a big block for a point to make it 14-9 and continue extending the lead. Shea partnered with Verille and with Emma Murphy to give Canton a blocking matchup that could compete with the towering Jubb.
“Both combinations had some blocks on her tonight,” said Cawley.
“Casey is a good blocker…it’s only her second year playing volleyball and having a good blocker on another team’s hitter is an invaluable asset.”
Verille would kill off the second set with an emphatic slam down the line to give Canton a comfortable 2-0 edge. The Mustangs, propelled by a vociferous home crowd, did not lay down and pushed the Bulldogs throughout the third set.
Riana Pozsgai had a kill and then an ace to give Medway the 5-4 lead, but it would be the final lead of the match for the Mustangs, who never trailed by more than five in the closing set.
Kehla Minkin came in and provided a spark with a pair of aces to to give Canton back the advantage. Hamilton followed with a tip for a point and setter Nicole Poole (22 assists and one block) rose up for a very rare block to make it 9-5. With a big smile, Poole excitedly turned to the bench making sure that it knew she had made the play.
Medway continued to battle and keep it close. The final dagger may have come with Canton leading 19-18, when the ball skipped off Devoe and was heading into the stands. Hamilton raced over to keep it alive and Erika Lum was there with a heads up bump to get it over the net.
The Mustangs hit it into the net and deflated as the point went to Canton. Shea would cap the win with a big block at the end to send the Bulldogs into the final.
“I feel like this is kind of a blue-collar team,” said Cawley. “We’re a very good defensive team, pretty good blocking team, and we have timely offense.”
This is another trip to the sectional final for the Bulldogs, who have had their struggles when they reach this point. Canton has only once (2012) gotten out of the sectional and Cawley insisted that her team needed to enjoy the moment on Wednesday.
“The pressure to win sometimes overrides the joy of winning,” she said, “and they really need to enjoy their accomplishments right now and we’ll see what Saturday brings.”
Canton will face Westborough on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Hudson High.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.