FRANKLIN, Mass. – After splitting two regular season matchups and sharing the Kelley-Rex division title for the second year in a row, it was fitting that the final game of the volleyball season would see Franklin and King Philip battle it out, not just for the bragging rights, or to win the season series, but also to being home the first Hockomock Cup title.
After jumping in front by winning the opening two sets, Franklin was nearly forced to a decisive fifth set but the Panthers rallied in the fourth, winning six of the final seven points, capped off by a cross-court spike by senior Ally Bonnet-Eymard that snuck inside the line, to seal a 3-1 (25-15, 25-21, 21-25, 25-21) victory.
“The girls never took a single day for granted,” said Franklin coach Samantha Elliott. “They have been 100 percent committed to play, so for them this wasn’t just the first Hock Cup, this was their championship and they’ve been working that way all season.”
KP coach Kristen Geuss was proud of her team’s fight back after a rough opening set and the way the Warriors fought throughout a final that everyone was grateful to see happen.
“I think we played very well,” she said. “To have the opportunity to even play an extra week in this whole thing, it gave us more games and let the girls come out and have fun for another week. We had a great season and they’re a great bunch of girls.”
Franklin took control of the opening set right from the first point. In a reverse of Wednesday’s semifinal against Canton, KP struggled out of the gate and the Panthers put together a 9-0 run to break things open and take a 19-6 lead.
Emma Chase (10 kills) had a block and then a kill on back-to-back points, Bonnet-Eymard (game-high 22 kills) fired a shot past the dive of KP libero Emma Brooks, Taylor Lacerda (seven kills) fired an ace, and then Bonnet-Eymard ended the run with a hit right on the line.
KP tried to build some momentum heading to the second. Giovanna Fruci and Sami Shore each had kills before Bonnet-Eymard picked the corner with an accurate swing. Nicole Coughlan and Ahunna James both got on the board as well with good hits, but the final swing hit the net and Franklin took the quick 1-0 lead.
“I had the confidence that we could come back,” said Geuss. “We have in the past. I thought we could dig deep and we did. The second and third games were much better obviously than the first and I thought they played really well.”
The Warriors did seem to carry some energy over into the second set and a Lily Carlow ace and a block and a kill by James put the visitors up 11-5. Brooks had a point from the back row and James added another of her five kills in the set to keep the lead at five points, but Franklin’s depth along the front line started to pay dividends.
Grace Lacerda, Chase, and Taylor Lacerda recorded three straight points and an angled Chase drive got Franklin back level. After the Panthers took the lead, Coughlan had two straight kills, including one at the end of a long rally that put KP back in front 19-18. Bonnet-Eymard answered with a pinpoint tip and a blast off the blocker.
“That’s the best thing about us, it’s not just Ally,” Elliott said. “Ally is a force to be reckoned with but it’s always every other girl on my team. (Setter) Cailyn [Mackintosh] has the ability to give it to anyone because people watch Ally so if you can give it to someone else it’s going to work out in your favor.”
“She has worked so hard to be as accurate and consistent and connect with every single one of our hitters that we wouldn’t be where we are without her drive and her leadership,” Elliott said about Mackintosh, who finished with 49 assists.
With Franklin up 23-21, Bonnet-Eymard again found space down the line off the dive of Carlow and a shot into the net had the Panthers just a set away from the win.
The last time these teams met, it went to five sets before KP pulled out the win. So, Franklin knew there was still work to be done. The Panthers jumped out to a 14-11 lead in the fourth following a Mackintosh push that eluded the KP defense.
KP responded with four straight points to get in front. With the score tied again at 17-17, KP managed to string together a few points. Fruci started it with a spike and then Coughlan was able to follow with back-to-back points. The senior, who managed to score from both outside positions as well as the middle, had eight kills in the third set alone.
“Nicole makes everything look easy, and it’s not,” Geuss said about Coughlan. “I don’t know how she does it but she makes everything look easy. She will be missed.”
After Bonnet-Eymard got one back for Franklin, Coughlan added two more kills. With the score 24-21, James, just a sophomore, showed off her skills on the outside with a powerful angled drive that secured a fourth set.
The fourth was back-and-forth with neither team able to build larger than a four-point lead. Coughlan and James continued to find any gap in the Franklin defense and the KP back row continued to keep almost every play alive, forcing the Panthers into long rallies.
KP looked like it might be on its way to a decisive fifth set when it rattled off five straight points and took a 12-8 lead. Bonnet-Eymard had the answer with back-to-back kills, the second smashed off the KP block and out. A kill from Lindsey Tarantola tied things up and then an ace by Meghan Linkkila put Franklin in front 13-12.
Shore got KP back within one at 17-16 but Chase came right back with a hit from the middle. James had a pair of kills, including one right off the line to put the Warriors up 19-18, then Carlow’s tough serve got away from the Panthers. Chase and Bonnet-Eymard came right back with kills and tied the set at 20-20.
After a Franklin point, James blasted another kill that tied the game at 21-21, but King Philip (11-2) had an uncharacteristic defensive lapse to put Franklin in front to stay. Brigid Earley followed with a big block, a shot went wide, and then Bonnet-Eymard lined up one last swing, angled across the court into an open spot, handing Franklin (12-1) the win and the cup.
“We knew that the first set was not normal, that we were going to have to work hard for every single point because KP is a fantastic team,” Elliott explained. “Just telling the girls to believe in themselves and to forget what this is and to have fun for their last game to play with each other that they’d be okay, and they were.”