By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
TAUNTON, Mass. – Following Friday’s loss to Mansfield, the Franklin players called a meeting over the weekend to address the fact that they had played tight against the Hornets. According to coach Kate Horsmann, the Panthers needed to work out how to be ready without being too “skitzed out.”
Whatever method the players came up with, it worked wonders for the first two sets at Kelley-Rex Division leader Taunton on Monday evening.
The Panthers jumped all over the Tigers to win the first two sets before Taunton roared back in the third and fourth to force a deciding fifth set. Franklin took back momentum and claimed the final set 15-5 for a 3-2 (25-17, 25-21, 21-25, 15-25, 15-5) victory that means the top four teams in the division all have just one loss.
“I’m really excited for the girls because it was a good bounce back and it was a win against a quality team on their home court,” said Horsmann.
The first two sets were dominated by the Panthers and a balanced attack including outside hitters Aubrie Kutil (12 kills) and Hannah Chace (seven kills). Setter Elizabeth Neal (team-high 18 assists) spread the ball around to the Panthers hitters and Franklin controlled both sets from start to finish.
The return of senior Alyssa Shea from a concussion also helped Franklin’s rotation.
Horsmann said, “We don’t have a lot of players with her experience. It’s not just her blocking, she’s so quick and she digs balls that other kids aren’t in position to get.”
An hour into the match and it looked over. Taunton coach Toby Chaperon spoke with his team in between the second and third set and asked them a simple question.
“I asked the girls in a timeout, what kind of team are we going to be?” said Chaperon. “Are we going to let up when things get down or are we going to fight back? We fought back today and I was really proud of that.”
The Tigers took an early lead in the third set, their first lead of the match, and built the lead to as much as six (12-6). Taunton’s defense looked vastly different with libero Molly Sullivan (13 digs and only two errors) and Megan Navarro (10 digs) keeping plays alive for Tatum Speicher (32 assists) to set up Emily Moor (16 kills) and Aimee Kistner (five kills).
Chaperon said that he only made small changes to what Taunton had been doing in the opening two sets. He explained, “We made two minor changes and one lineup change but it wasn’t really that, it was more of a mindset change for our kids.”
The Tigers were helped by Franklin suddenly going flat and making mistakes, particularly in the service game where the Panthers made five errors in each of the third and fourth sets, including the final point of each.
“At the end of the second set they got some momentum and I think we just did mindless things, said Horsmann. “We’d go on a little run and serve it out of bounds and you can’t beat a good team making unforced errors.”
“Their confidence was growing and their momentum was growing and we got nervous.”
The momentum was completely with the home team and the gym was very loud as the fifth set began, but it was the visitors that took back control right away. Caroline Maguire took over the serve with the score 1-1 and went on a run that pushed the Panthers ahead 7-1. She also came up with a huge block in the middle to make it 11-4 and a kill to set up match point.
“Caroline has been so steady for us,” said Horsmann. “You look at her numbers and they don’t shine but…she touches a lot of balls back and keeping them in play so our defenders can get to them and those don’t show up in stats.”
The Tigers could never get momentum back in the shortened fifth set and the Panthers were able to pull away to get the victory that turns the division title race into a quagmire between four teams.
“They got a couple of nice swings and they got a lead off their serve and next you know they’re up 6-1 and in the fifth set it’s so crucial to get the advantage,” said Chaperon.
He added, “Unfortunately, the last two matches we’ve come out flat right at the start and it’s cost us. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every night and you can’t decide to bring it for two sets or three sets.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.