NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Canton has been searching for the right lineup combination all season. Based on its performance in Monday evening’s battle of Davenport co-leaders in the Nixon Gym, it seems the Bulldogs might have finally found their best rotations.
The Bulldogs put together a complete performance, never trailing until late in the third set, and never allowing Oliver Ames to build momentum and get into the match. Canton won 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-23) and now has a one-game lead on the Tigers with three matches left in the season.
“We always try to get off to a good start,” said Canton coach Pat Cawley. “Whether you can or you can’t, it depends on the day. It’s a lot easier to play when you’re ahead and that was to our benefit but we did let them catch up in the second set and again in the third. To the kids’ credit they did buckle down and get it done.”
Canton showed off a balanced attack to build a lead in the first set. Liz Bickett (11 kills and 17 digs) had back-to-back hits to put the Bulldogs in front 10-7. After Caroline Flynn’s kill got OA back within two, the Bulldogs kept winning rallies, got an ace from Taylor Reynolds and pushed the lead to as many as five (15-10).
A block by freshman Sarah Hilliard and an ace from Amanda Barth kept the Tigers hanging around, but a pair of kills from outside hitter Anna Verille extended the lead back to four. Back-to-back blocks by Hadley Rhodes (21 assists and seven kills) and Tori Harneyy and then a tip by Flynn (11 kills) tied things up at 19-19.
Just when it looked like OA might be able to steal the first set, Canton ran off four straight, including an accurate tip by setter Jackie Morrissey and a big swing from Angie Elias (14 kills). Elias sealed the 1-0 lead with a well-placed tip, her fifth point of the first.
The visitors seemed to carry over the momentum into the second, continuing to win the battles at the net, led by Elias, Bickett, and Sydney Gallery (seven kills), who stepped into the middle in the absence of Shannon Malloy and had an impressive match on both sides of the ball. Her tip put the Bulldogs up 10-5.
“Syd’s first time playing middle and she did a great job,” said Cawley. “We didn’t even get to practice with her in the middle.”
Flynn capped a long rally with a cross-court kill, but Elias answered back with two of the next three points for an 18-11 lead. Down 20-13 and in danger of falling behind by two sets, OA managed to fight back and won nine of the next 11 points to tie it up at 22-22.
“We’ve made it interesting, but I want to make it count,” said OA coach Chelsea Cunningham. “Our lineup changes every single game, but it builds opportunities for everyone on the team, which I appreciate, and their willingness to try and give it their all.”
The Tigers were playing better defense in that stretch, although a block by Talya DeGraw and an ace by Nikki Desjardins slowed the comeback. Hilliard came through with another block in the middle and Harney found an angle for a big swing. An ace by Sarah Morley (23 digs) and quick tip by Rhodes tied the set and then Jordan Bennett made it 23-23 with a kill.
Again, the visitors had an answer. Bickett restored the lead with a tip down the line and then closed out the second with a kill to put the Bulldogs in control.
Cawley said, “I thought our ball control today was excellent. I thought our defense did a great job. We focused on being there to block, but I think our offense kept their defense off-balance. That’s a credit to our defense, which got the ball to our setter so we could put pressure on their defense.”
The familiar pattern continued in the third set, as Canton jumped out in front again. Down 14-8, OA started to climb back into it, following an ace by Alexandra Zwerle and a block by Courtney Raymond. Elias answered with an ace and the Bulldogs remained in front 16-12. The Tigers rolled off six of the next seven points to grab their first lead of the match.
Raymond added an ace to her earlier block and Flynn had a big swing on the outside. Bennett added another kill and OA led 21-19 in the third, looking to try and extend the match.
“These games are what will make us stronger,” said Cunningham. “They’re fighting. I get to give other kids the opportunity to play and they’re feisty. Them taking those risks definitely helps ignite a little bit of energy our team needs right now.”
Canton just seemed to make the big plays when it needed and found any openings in the OA defense. Verille dropped a shot in between a few Tigers and Bickett scored with a block to tie the set. Raymond had a kill to tie things back up at 23-23, but the Bulldogs won the final two points to seal the match.
“Their coverage was fantastic,” Cunningham added, “and that challenges us because we’re suffering on coverage right now. We’ve just got to bounce back. Hopefully it will be a quick turnaround.”
The Bulldogs have now won four straight after being swept by Sharon. Cawley saw that match as a good reminder to her team about how little separates the teams in the Davenport this season.
“Every loss is a learning experience,” she explained. “Last year we lost twice to North and I think it was the best thing for us to understand that you can lose. Every team out there is good and you can’t take anyone for granted. We’re not above the rest of the competition at all, we’re right there with everyone.”