But just making an appearance wasn’t enough for the fourth-seeded Tigers. In fact, Oliver Ames did something that very few teams have been able to do in the South Final over the last decade: they pushed the Red Raiders to the limit.
Oliver Ames twice rallied from one-set deficits, including a late comeback in the fourth set to force a decisive winner-take-all fifth set. But second-seeded Barnstable showed why they are considered the best program in state history, grabbing an early lead in the final set and never looking back to secure a 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 25-22, 23-25, 15-9) win and the program’s 10th straight D1 South Sectional title.
“I told them to take it one point at a time and to enjoy it because this could be it,” said Oliver Ames head coach Chelsea Cunningham. “Even though it was, this was the best they have ever played. I’m so proud of all of them. I couldn’t ask for anything more. They played so calm, they celebrated together and they picked each other up. And every set was close. After the first set, we evaluated every situation and how we wanted to approach it. The girls persevered under a lot of tough pressure. To even go to five, it was phenomenal to watch and we got to entertain the crowd.”
In their decade of dominance, Barnstable has dropped a total of just three sets in the sectional final game. New Bedford forced the Raiders to five in 2010 while Bishop Feehan grabbed one set in the 2014 final. Barnstable hadn’t dropped a set in the sectional final in the past four years.
“We’ve gone to five every match, I couldn’t believe it,” Cunningham said. “We’ve just taken it one point at a time in every match. We switched it up on the offense to makes sure everyone was an option and to just prepared that the ball was going to come back over. They were feisty, they were prepared…we were an underdog, no one expected us to go this far. And the girls just fed off that energy.”
OA showed early on they were ready to compete by keeping pace as junior Jordan Bennett placed a tip over the block for a kill, then forced a two-touch on a strong serve, and junior Caroline Flynn (10 kills) forced an error after a good hit to bring the Tigers within two, down 11-9.
Barnstable responded with a 6-2 run and ended up taking the first set 25-17.
But the Tigers responded in a big way, opening the second set with a 7-0 run, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. Senior Ryley McNeeley tossed a kill off the block, senior Allie Kemp (36 assists, 11 digs, two aces) landed an ace, and senior Jordyn Vella (six blocks, five kills) came up with back-to-back blocks to give the Tigers the early lead and the momentum.
The lead ballooned to 14-6 when senior Jordan Bosse (11kills, two aces) landed two kills in a three-play span, and Flynn hit above the block and to the floor for a kill, forcing Barnstable to take their second timeout early in the set.
Barnstable made it interesting early by cutting the deficit to three at 14-11 but Oliver Ames answered with a 7-3 that included two blocks and kill from Vella, another ace from Kemp, and a block kill from Bosse that denied a right-side attack from the Raiders.
Oliver Ames looked primed to even the score at one apiece when it went up 24-17 behind a net call, but the Raiders showed why they are so difficult to beat with flawless play over the next six chances. Barnstable won all seven of those points, helped along by a pair of OA errors, to get within one down 24-23 but a service error allowed OA to clinch the point and the set, making it 1-1.
“That’s a great program, Chelsea has done a great job,” said longtime Barnstable coach Tom Turco, who won his 700th game with the victory. “This is probably one of the biggest sectional championships that we’ve won.”
Barnstable built an early 8-5 lead in the third set but OA wouldn’t break, responding with a 6-2 run that featured a kill and ace from Bosse and two kills from Flynn to take an 11-10 lead. The teams traded points for a good chunk of the set, with the teams tied at 11, 12. 13, and 15. Barnstable gained the slightest advantage with a quick 5-1 run as junior Caroline Kiehnau gave the Raiders a huge boost with a handful of kills off Tiger blocks.
Oliver Ames got with three on three occasions, down 21-18 after a nice tip kill from Bennett after a big dig from Alison Barth (40 digs), down 22-19 after a kill from Flynn, and down 23-20 on a nice spot push from Flynn. The Tigers even got within two at 23-21 when Sarah Morley delivered an ace and at 24-22 behind a Bosse kill, but a nice dump by the Barnstable setter on the second touch caught OA off guard for a 25-22 win in the third set.
The fourth set played out similarly to the third, but even closer throughout. Barnstable led by two early on by an ace from Bosse, two kills from Bennett, and a kill from Flynn on a nice back set from Kemp helped OA tie it at 11-11.
OA jumped in front by two on a huge block from McNeeley on an outside attack from Barnstable and a kill from Flynn for a 13-11 advantage. OA remained a point ahead while the teams traded points but Barnstable finally earned consecutive points helped by a service error to make it 20-20 to force a timeout.
“I just told them its a game to five, and I asked who’s going to get there first? They told me that they were and that’s exactly what they did,” Cunningham said. “We committed to it as one and it was awesome.”
Barnstable took three leads, 21-20, 22-21, and 23-22 but the Tigers refused to give up. Bosse and Bennett had black to back strong swings for kills, and then Bosse got a kind roll off the top of the net, falling over into Raiders’ territory for a 25-23 win, forcing a fifth set.
The experience of Barnstable paid off as they picked up an early lead. After Vella put OA up 1-0, Barnstable won eight of the next points that featured two blocks from the Raiders and two balls that fell just out of the reach of OA defenders.
The Tigers played well after the switch with Bosse getting a kill and Bennet landing a big block and a kill, but Barnstable also played well and extended its lead to 13-6. In true fashion to how they played the entire match, OA still didn’t fold as a hitting error and a double block from Vella and Flynn got the Tigers within five, down 13-8.
But Barnstable was able to grind out two more points and secure their 10th straight sectional title.
“I think [the underclassman] are even more committed to continue persevering and making these seniors proud,” Cunningham said. “I think they are ready to work hard to fill the big shoes that are leaving this program and I think next year will be just as exciting.”
Meanwhile, the senior class leaves behind a lasting legacy that includes bringing the program to new heights. That group includes Jordan Bosse, Ryley McNeeley, Allie Kemp, Alison Barth, Jordyn Vella, and Mary Davenport.
“This is my first group to graduate as head coach,” Cunningham said. “I saw them as freshmen, I saw the potential, and I knew they were going to be something special and they didn’t let me down in that aspect. We’re going to miss them dearly and they know they left such a prominent and positive mark on this program. They should be nothing but proud of themselves.”
Oliver Ames volleyball finishes its best season in program history with an 18-5 record, its first-ever Kelley-Rex title, and the furthest the team has gone in program history.