MANSFIELD, Mass. – The Hornets had plenty of motivation heading into Saturday afternoon’s matinee with Bishop Feehan in the Albertini Gym. Mansfield lost in three sets to the Shamrocks in he regular season and also were trying to erase the disappointment of last year’s first round home loss to league rival Taunton in the opening round of the playoffs.
With all of that “fuel for the fire,” as Mansfield coach Melissa Heeden called it, there was no surprise that the Hornets came out firing in front of their home crowd. Mansfield kept the pressure up from the opening point and rolled to a 3-0 (25-11, 25-13, 25-21) victory, which advances the Hornets to the Div. 1 South semifinal.
“We tried to make some adjustments on some of the little things,” said Heeden on the difference between the first meeting with Feehan and Saturday’s performance.
“Obviously them not having (KP transfer and former HockomockSports.com Underclassman of the Year) Mary Campbell…she’s a huge part of their team, so I know that them not having her makes a big difference. I think the motivation of the fact that we did lose the first time and having a home game was a big difference for us.”
Mansfield trailed 5-4 in the opening set when senior setter Chloe Peters stepped to the service line and she sparked an 8-0 run to take control. Peters, who finished with 32 assists and 11 service points, had an ace and three kills in the first and along with libero Jess Haradonand senior Jacey Anderson controlled the match with pinpoint serves.
“Chloe Peters, Jess Haradon have had great serves all season,” said Heeden. “They struggled a little bit in the middle of the season and we worked on the mental toughness of it and they’ve done an awesome job of kind of bringing that back out today. This was the perfect timing for it today.”
Once in the lead, the Hornets stepped on the gas to put the first set away. Junior outside hitter Julia Harrison (eight kills and seven service points) had a pair of kills, as did senior hitter Emily Kleber who closed out the set with kills on two of the final three points.
In the second, Mansfield again found itself trailing 5-4 but again it was the service game that turned the momentum. A 14-5 run put the Hornets in front with a sizable cushion. Middle hitters Olivia Broyles and Meg Hill both stepped up to control the net against Feehan’s Kathryn Sachs. Each had three kills in the second.
Heeden was asked about the confidence the Hornets showed in the opening two sets to dominate the match and she credited the difficult league campaign with building the belief that the Hornets can beat anyone.
Heeden added, “We started out really strong at the beginning of the season and had a few losses that were close, so I know the girls were excited and wanted to push and win at home.”
Heading into the third, the Shamrocks were determined not to go quietly and started to push back despite falling behind early. A kill by Broyles and a block by Emily Ascoli pushed the Hornets lead to 16-11 but Feehan scored the next four points before Heeden called a timeout to emphasize how important it would be to close out the match in the third.
“That was a crucial time,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure we kind of swung it back in our direction. The girls were so excited in the beginning and I knew that energy would be tough to continue to have the whole time.”
Feehan stayed within a point until a serve into the net gave Mansfield a 21-19 edge. Haradon (19 digs and seven service points) followed that with an ace and, after an error, Hill (team-high nine kills) stepped up with back-to-back kills that made it 24-20. The Shamrocks got a point off a service error and then Hill wrapped up the win with another angled blast to the sideline.
“So much of our team was here last year and was so upset that we beat Taunton the week before and lost to them in three,” Heeden reflected. “I think that was big fuel for the fire. They didn’t want that to happen again.”
Now Mansfield (15-5) awaits the winner of top seed Barnstable and Oliver Ames, which play on Tuesday. A Tigers upset would give the Hornets another home game, but Heeden thinks the Hornets would be ready for the hike to face the Raiders.
“We know they’re obviously a good team,” said Heeden of perennial power Barnstable, “but the fact that they played so well together today makes me feel more confident going into things.”