KP Sweeps Back, Beats Franklin in First Place Showdown

King Philip Volleyball
Ahunna James (11) and her KP teammates celebrate after the final point of their 3-0 win over league title rival Franklin. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WRENTHAM, Mass. – When the teams met for the first time, just three games into the new season, Franklin earned a three-set sweep on its home court in a match that was much closer than its overall final score (two of the sets went beyond 25 points). King Philip hosted the second meeting on Thursday night at the Wooden Gym and the opening set was just as competitive.

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The Warriors were able to pull out the first set this time around, winning it 27-25, and KP carried the momentum into a 3-0 (27-25, 25-16, 25-19) sweep, a 12th straight win, and a split of the season series.

“I think that for us it was huge,” KP coach Kristen Geuss explained. “I think it gave us a little boost of confidence going into the second set. That first set could’ve gone either way, much like the first time we played them. Just having a win gets us going even more and that momentum takes us into the next set.”

KP got off to a strong start in front of the home crowd, taking an 8-3 lead when sophomore setter Madison Asprelli laid out to keep the point alive and Sami Shore finished it with a spike off the blockers. Franklin wasted no time coming right back, with an 8-2 run of its own to take an 11-10 lead. Jennifer Soohoo and Taylor Lacerda had kills and freshman Makayla Kuykendall’s ace put the Panthers in front for the first time.

From that point to the end of the first set, neither team was able to lead by more than three points and the intensity, the energy, the speed, and the quality of play was all at the highest level.

The Warriors came back with a pair of kills from Olivia O’Neil and one from middle hitter Emily Sawyer. Soohoo answered with a nice tip and Lacerda found the court with a big swing. Rachel Taylor caught KP leaning and dropped a bump in for a point, Cate Roberge had a kill, Grace Lacerda got a block and Taylor fired an ace to make it 19-16 for the Panthers.

Shore smashed another shot off the block and put KP back in front with an impressive block right in the center of the net. With the home crowd and the home bench getting excited, Kuykendall stepped up again with a shot through the block to tie it at 21 apiece. Her ace put the Panthers up 23-22, but KP came right back with two points, including a spike from Sawyer.

Grace Lacerda picked out the far corner with an accurate shot to tie it and then found the floor with a nice tip to make it 25-25. Sawyer continued to overpower the Franklin block to put the Warriors in front and when the ball hit the net on the final point of a breathless set, it was KP that was on top.

There was no let off for the Panthers at the start of the second, as KP jumped out to a 7-1 lead behind two kills and a block from Sawyer. Franklin’s energy remained high, but the Panthers were struggling to make accurate passes and the errors early in the set proved costly.

“We made too many mistakes at the start of the second to keep that momentum up,” Redmond admitted. “We finished that first set still feeling good because it was close and high energy and it was really good volleyball, but to start any set against a really great team with a lot of errors kills all the momentum.”

Franklin did put together a run in the middle of the set to close within two at 10-8, Lacerda finished off a long rally and a replayed point with kills. Missy Canning and O’Neil answered back to push the lead back to four and Ahunna James dropped in a powerful serve to keep the lead growing.

After Lacerda’s kill made it 17-13, KP went on an 8-3 run to close out the set. James powered one through the block and Shore had another big block in the middle. Shore would end the second with kills on two of the final three points to put KP on the brink of the win.

While a lot of attention rightly goes to the team’s hitters. Geuss gave credit to her back line, including Kate O’Neil, Shea Mellman, and libero Ava Kelley, who helped keep plays alive for setters Asprelli and Fiona Bailey to tee up the hitters.

“It’s totally a team effort,” Geuss said. “Our passes were so good this time. Everyone played really, really well. I think it was a total team effort to get the ball to our hitters. It all starts in that back row and they really great today.”

Franklin needed a spark to keep the match alive, but the third set started with another KP run. The Warriors this time pushed the lead to 8-1, with James and Sawyer recording kills and O’Neil providing a block. The Panthers scored three straight on kills by Taylor and Grace Lacerda and and ace from Sasha Tracey, cutting the lead to 12-9.

As she did all match, Shore had the answer. Her well-placed tip fell in for a point and she followed it with yet another block. James added an ace and the lead was back up to six in an instant. Soohoo had a kill and a block to bring the Panthers back again, at 15-13, but Olivia O’Neil and Sawyer had kills to give KP a more comfortable cushion.

Things went back-and-forth down the stretch. James fired a swing to the back row and Taylor Lacerda matched it. James came right back with another accurate hit, Kuykendall went down the line to respond, and Kate O’Neil tipped one off the blockers and out.

Canning would get the final swing for the Warriors, securing a season split for the third straight year.

KP and Franklin have been the class of the Kelley-Rex division for the past decade. One or the other has been league champion for the last nine seasons and the two have shared the crown each of the past three years (with Oliver Ames grabbing a third of the title in 2019). Both coaches noted that the rivalry and the level of volleyball the two teams play against each other will only help prepare for the playoffs to come.

“KP is a fantastic program and it’s great to play them this close to the end,” Redmond said. “They’re high energy, it’s great volleyball, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s stressful, but it’s fun.

Geuss added, “Franklin is so good. They’re always so good. You have to play at your top when you play against them. We have to prepare for moving on and to see a team like Franklin come, it’s great experience for us.”

King Philip (14-1) will come back on Monday night with another title showdown, facing surprise division co-leader Attleboro. Franklin (10-3) will be home on Monday to face Taunton, hoping for an Attleboro upset to possibly share the title again this fall.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

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