MILFORD, Mass. – When junior Emily Sawyer slammed the final point of the second set, it looked like the King Philip volleyball team had all of the momentum in Tuesday evening’s Division 2 State Semifinal clash against undefeated Hopkinton.
The Warriors had just erased a late three-point deficit to win the second set against the Hillers, evening the match at 1-1 heading to the third set.
But point by point, the momentum faded like air slowly leaking from a balloon. Hopkinton won 11 of the first 12 points, building a double-digit it never relinquished to score a decisive win in the third set and went on to take the match, 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-8, 25-21), to advance to the D2 State Championship.
King Philip didn’t go down quietly, despite falling behind in the early stages of the fourth set. Hopkinton jumped out to a 6-0 lead, getting an ace, a strong swinging kill, and a perfectly placed tip kill in the process. It had the makings of a repeat of the third set.
But the Warriors climbed back into the match against the Hillers, winning 13 of the next 17 points in the form of a 13-4 run. Stella Bailey (34 assists) landed an ace and Ahunna James (12 kills, 11 digs) had three straight kills — one from the back row, one off the block, and one down to the floor — to get KP right back into it.
James added a kill on a swing from the middle and Sawyer (11 kills) added one of her own as the Warriors suddenly jumped ahead 12-10. The fourth stayed close throughout, with Sawyer putting KP up 16-13 on a kill. James split the block with a nice kill to take a 20-19 lead but Hopkinton took advantage of a free ball for a kill, landed a roll shot in the heart of the KP defense, and a hitting error put the Hillers ahead 22-20.
James landed a tip after a nice fake on her approach to make it a one-point set but Hopkinton closed it out with three straight, including a block to end it.
“They’re good, they’re really good,” King Philip head coach Kristen Geuss said of the Hillers. “I think we were a little intimidated and I think we got in our own heads a little bit. And from that we weren’t able to play our game. But I don’t want to take anything away from Hopkinton, they were a really good team tonight. I’m sure we had some nerves and we were a little out of our rhythm but I’m not taking anything away from [Hopkinton], they were awesome.”
Hopkinton set the tone early with a big block for the second point of the match. Sawyer landed a kill to keep KP close, down 10-8, before the Hillers were able to do what the Warriors have done all season: a run in the middle of the match to create separation.
It was a 9-3 burst that turned a close first set into a sizable lead. KP clawed back as Sawyer had a kill after a nice pass from Liv Carey, and a strong serve from Sofia Riedel forced a defensive miscue to cut the deficit to 21-16. But that was as close as KP got the rest of the way before dropping the first set.
There wasn’t much separating the two squads in the second set, with the scoring being tied at 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 16 (after a huge double block from Sawyer and Molly O’Brien), and 17 apiece. Hopkinton had its largest lead of the set at 21-18, forcing a timeout from KP.
After a service error, James rose up to block a tip attempt but Hopkinton responded with a kill of its own. Down 22-20, a nice pass from Samantha Asprelli (12 digs) to Bailey set up Sami Shore (nine kills) for a big swing. KP tied it at 22-22 off a kill from James.
After trading points, Gianna DeLorenzo landed an ace on the back touchline to take the lead and Sawyer put down a thunderous kill to clinch the win in the second set.
“Overall, I’m really proud of them, we had a great season and went further than we ever had before,” Geuss said. “It was a fun season, it’s a great group of girls.”
Not much went right for KP in the third set. On top of the big deficit to start, the Warriors didn’t help their own cause with 10 attacking errors. In the fourth, the Warriors overcame a six-point deficit early but couldn’t complete the comeback in the fourth.
“We’ve come from behind before and I knew they could do it again but when you get that many points against a team like that, it’s tough to get back,” Geuss said. “They were great blockers and they passed well but we played well, we left everything we had on the floor but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
King Philip concludes its best season in program history at 22-2 with its first-ever state semifinal appearance.