Entering the contest with identical 3-1 records, the Hawks and Hornets split the first four sets evenly, with the hosts grabbing the first and third while the visitors came back to level things twice, forcing a winner-take-all fifth set.
And even then, the two sides were nearly even. After a back-and-forth start, Milford went on an 8-1 run that put them a point away from one point away from clinching the game. That final point didn’t come easy, though, as Mansfield recorded four straight points to half the deficit.
But in the end, the Hawks got that final point to earn a hard-fought 3-2 (25-19, 19-25, 25-17, 21-25, 15-10) win over the Hornets.
“I just told them to keep playing their game, and to take care of themselves,” said Milford coach Tammy Webber of her message to her team as Mansfield battled back late. “Obviously it’s a team game but if they all took care of their own jobs, things would work out and we were able to end it.”
While the Hawks didn’t register an ace in the fifth set, their serving proved to be a vital asset and a key to the win. After service errors on their first two chances, Milford put Mansfield under a lot of pressure with strong serving.
After taking a 6-5 lead on a block from Allison Corsini (nine kills, seven blocks), Mansfield’s defense had a hard time dealing with a strong serve from Elise Fauerbach. Two more strong serves from Fauerbach led to easy kills from Corsini as she slammed down a pair of open looks that popped up from the Hornets’ serve receive, putting the Hawks up 9-5.
Corsini and Alyssa Williamson (12 kills, two aces) had back-to-back kills coming out of a Hornet timeout, and a Mansfield hitting error combined with another Corsini kill (off another loose receive from Mansfield) put the Hawks on the verge of the win at 14-6.
Mansfield picked up some momentum when Olivia McGrath (13 kills, eight service points) put down a kill and registered an ace, and Julia Kelly slammed down a kill to make it 14-10 before a play error gave Milford the final point for the win.
“We picked up our serving in that fifth set,” Webber said. “Our serving is our first line of offense and we depend on it a lot. When it’s off, we feel it, you could see if some of the first sets. But it was on in that tight situation which was good.
We talked about [Allison] making her presence known at the net and taking control, between her and her sister [Lauren] at the net.”
The first game set the tone for the rest of the match, as neither side was able to generate a large lead. Milford had a 5-0 burst that featured a back row kill from Fauerbach to take a 16-11 lead but Mansfield battled back to make it a two-point game at 18-16 on a nice tip from Alina Nowakowski (11 kills) after a nice dig from Sam Sternburg (19 digs, 10 service points).
Milford sophomore Sarah Brogioli (five kills, seven aces) landed back-to-back aces while Williamson landed two big kills down the stretch to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
Mansfield used a 7-1 run early in the second set to take its largest lead of the match. Nowakowski had back-to-back kills, McGrath landed a big kill from the middle, and Julia Buiser had an ace to put the Hornets ahead 13-7. The run continued with two aces from McGrath and one from Olivia Fernando to make it 19-10. Milford made a mini-run but McGrath grabbed another kill to make it 1-1.
“In our last game, we weren’t talking consistently so I was really happy about being better at that today, I was really proud of that,” said Mansfield coach Melissa Heeden. “This is the first time we went to a fifth set, and I feel having back-to-back challenging games and another on Friday, it will benefit us. We just switched the rotation and it’s starting to gel. The girls are upset but I’m thrilled with where we are at.
“It’s still early in the season and I’m happy with where we are at. Of course I wish we won but I’m happy with how they fought back and how they played, it was a good team effort.”
Williamson had a pair of big kills in succession and Lauren Corsini (five kills, four blocks) added one of her own on a nice set from Julia Riordan (20 assists) to highlight a quick 7-2 burst in the third set for the Hawks. That little run made the difference and Brogioli landed a kill late to give Milford a 2-1 lead.
Mansfield used a similar run in the fourth set as it had in the second, creating separation early. A pair of aces from Brogioli closed the game and two Hornet errors made it a tie game at 19-19. Mansfield kept the advantage thanks to two kills from McGrath and a key block from Emily Dardinski on a hit that would have tied the game. Kelly clinched the fourth set win with a nicely placed tip.
“I can’t believe how evenly matched that entire match was,” Webber said. “They had their ups, we had our ups, they had their downs, we had our downs, it was crazy. The fifth set started with two missed serves and it was just a matter of who was going to react better after that and we responded much better than we usually do.”
Milford volleyball (4-1 Hockomock, 4-1 overall) will look to make it three straight wins when it travels to North Attleboro on Friday. Mansfield (3-2, 3-2) will try and get back into the win column when it travels to Oliver Ames on Friday.