NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. – North Attleboro entered Thursday night’s Div. 1 South opening round match against New Bedford at the Pickering Gym as the higher seed and the favorite, but Halloween turned out to be more trick than treat for Big Red.
The Whalers took control of the match from the start, as sophomore Germinal Tagne proved to be too much to handle for the North defense, and rolled to a comprehensive 3-0 (25-15, 25-22, 25-18) sweep that abruptly ended the season for the Davenport division runner-up.
“We always give credit where credit’s due,” said North coach Kim Hallahan about the Whalers. “I thought they were incredible. They didn’t let any balls hit the floor. They fought for every single point and they’re fantastic. They have a really, really good team.”
Tagne was a force right from the opening point, recording nine kills, a block, and an ace in the first set. North recently won a five-set thriller at Canton and it was the block against Bulldogs star hitter Taylor Harris that drew plaudits from the opponents, but nothing that the Rocketeers did seemed to slow Tagne down, as she scored from both the front and back lines.
It was close for a while at the start, but New Bedford pulled away by winning 7-of-8 points to push the lead to 15-7. Every time that North started to get close, Tagne stepped up. She won back-to-back points to end a run and make it 19-12 and it was her ninth kill of the set that sealed the lead for the visitors.
The lone bright spot for the Rocketeers (13-6) in the opening set was senior hitter Kylie Melanson, who had six kills and seemed to be picking the back corner with every hit.
“Kylie all season has been our No. 1 and I’m glad she pulled through for us tonight and she was dependable,” said Hallahan. “We have so many great hitters, but it just didn’t work for us tonight.”
After being dominated in the first, North needed a response. The hosts came out flying in the second set, winning 10 of the first 12 points to take a commanding lead. Along with Melanson, North also got a kill from Grace Munleyand three straight aces from libero Brooke Street during that stretch.
Setter Hayley Gaskin was starting to spray the ball around and, after Abby Gallagher had a pair of kills to help extend the advantage to 16-7, New Bedford was forced into a timeout. It looked like North had woken up and it was going to be a much more even match.
New Bedford had other ideas. The Whalers rattled off nine straight points to tie the game and put North on its heels. Munley struck to put North back in front at 18-17, but then a Tagne kill and a block by middle hitter Jessica Dias gave New Bedford the lead.
Hallahan explained, “Unfortunately that’s kind of what happens with us. When they get one, we kind of get down on ourselves and they just keep getting more and more and more and we can’t seem to get ourselves out of that funk. I think that’s what happened to us tonight too. We couldn’t snap out of it.”
It was obvious that this was going to be a critical point in the match and North again responded to the challenge with a pair of service points for Street. Tagne got back-to-back points, but then Joanna Collins-Bilyeu earned a point with a well-placed push. The crowd was into it and North had energy, but a Dias kill and then a shot into the net put North in an 0-2 hole.
The Whalers knew the victory was in their grasp and they didn’t let up in the third. After Morgan Correia’s serve hit the top of the net and dropped to the court untouched, New Bedford led 18-9. The Rocketeers wouldn’t quit though, as Melanson got a kill to and then won back-to-back service points.
A long rally ended with a Dias block to make it 22-12, but North then rolled off six straight points to pull back within four. Collins-Bilyeu had a kill and a service point during the run, but it was brought to a halt by another blast by Tagne off the block. New Bedford won the final two points to book its place in the second round.
“We don’t like to use excuses but I think nerves got the best of us,” Hallahan admitted. “I think we were a little nervous coming in, playoffs, it was pretty big. I thought that it would work out in our favor because we had a home game, but I think we were just nervous and we didn’t really play our game.”