With an abbreviated season on tap this year, those head-to-head matchups take on extra importance as the Panthers and Warriors of King Philip stand as the favorites for the division crown again this year.
Round one of the home-and-home series between the two went to Franklin, who came through in key moments down the stretch in all three sets to earn a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-22) sweep of the visiting Warriors.
“It comes down to trust, trusting yourself, trusting who you’re on the court with, and trusting all of your teammates,” said first-year Franklin head coach Samantha Elliott. “It’s not a one-person sport, a one-person game…I think they showed a lot of teamwork closing those sets out. We can’t just rely on one person, we have to play our game as a team.”
Franklin battled through adversity during all three sets, the match playing out closer than the 3-0 score would indicate. In both the first and second sets Franklin saw their sizable advantage shrink down in the closing moments of each set. And in the third, the Panthers played from behind for the most part.
But when push came to shove, Franklin made the key plays in the key moments. The Panthers fended off KP in the first set by winning the final four points and then repeated that in the second set. After coming back in the third set, the game was tied until Franklin won three straight points to clinch the match.
“They were obviously the better team today,” said King Philip head coach Kristen Geuss, now in her sixth year at the helm of the Warriors. “We kind of hurt ourselves in some ways and we have to work on some things, having to have some practices with the whole team will definitely help. We haven’t had the whole team for one practice yet but that’s no excuse, we have to fix our mistakes.”
Franklin looked on its way to a comfortable win the first set, extending its lead to 19-12 behind a nice tip kill from freshman Taylor Lacerda (seven kills), a tip and block from junior Brigid Earley (six kills), and a nice line shot from senior Ally Bonnet-Eymard (12 kills). But KP had a renewed energy coming out of a timeout, sparked by a block from senior Paige Kannally, a perfectly placed pass over the net from senior Emma Brooks, a good serve from sophomore Ahunna James, and a kill from senior Giovanna Fruci off a nice set from Lauren Peterson that made it 21-18.
James added an ace after a Franklin timeout that made it a two-point game but Lacerda landed a big kill, and three straight strong serves from Maia Pilof, including an ace, sealed the 25-19 win.
“King Philip has a great defense and it showed our girls how hard they need to work in order to rally and finish off games,” Elliott said. “And it was good to see them battle tonight and see that they can do it.
“It was a great test for our defense too, they kept us on our toes. We had to switch some things up because both [James] and [Coughlan] were fantastic, definitely players we had to watch out for and try to take away the lanes because they were able to take advantage with some good swings.”
Franklin carried that momentum into the second set as the Panthers won the first seven points, getting a kill from Lacerda, another from senior Emma Chase (four kills, three blocks) on a quick set in the middle, a perfectly weighted tip from Earley, and an ace from junior Cailyn Mackintosh (25 assists).
The Panthers kept that lead for the majority of the set, pushing the advantage to double digits, 16-6, on a kill from Lacerda, but similar to the first set the Warriors made a run to make things interesting. Kills from Fruci and Nicole Coughlan started the run and the Warriors used their momentum to force the Panthers into some errors.
A nice swing from the back row from Lily Carloww got KP within three, 20-17, forcing a home timeout. Earley landed a nice kill from the right side and back-to-back KP hitting errors forced a Warrior timeout. KP couldn’t return the ball on back-to-back plays and Bonnet-Eymard finished the set off with an ace.
While Bonnet-Eymard led the Panthers in kills, Franklin’s ability to attack from each spot at the net during multiple rotations helped keep the Warrior defense off-balance. Mackintosh, who is in her second year starting at setter, did a nice job spreading the ball around to get swings from the outside, the middle, and the right side.
“We have 100% full faith in Cailyn to make the right decision,” Elliott said. “She’s been a rock on this team for the past two years, only a junior, she makes great decisions. She trusts everyone on the court too and I think that’s important when it comes to setting and spreading it around. She’s just a junior but it feels like she’s been playing forever.
“And everyone knows who Ally is, she’s such a weapon for us on offense so it’s really important for us to kind of spread things out and keep the defense off-balance, we don’t want the defense to get comfortable, start cheating that way. We have a lot of talent so it makes sense for us to spread it out.”
After falling behind in each of the first two sets, KP had a better start to the third game but Franklin kept pace with the Warriors. The game was tied six times and had seven lead changes in the first 20 points, the teams split 10-10 at that point.
Fruci registered a kill off the block, Coughlan slammed down a kill, and a Franklin net error gave the Warriors a 13-10 lead but Franklin responded with a 6-1 surge with Lacerda, Chase, and Bonnet-Eymard each registering a kill to put the hosts back ahead.
The teams went back-and-forth again, tied at 17, 19, 20, 21, and 22. A hitting error gave Franklin the lead, the Panthers earned a point after a nice swing from Bonnet-Eymard from the back row, and the Panthers clinched the win after another hitting error from the visitors.
“We have to work on our serve receive a little bit more and that just starts everything, it all goes from there,” Guess said. “I think we were a little bit not ready for today, we weren’t prepared for today. It’s a big game against [Franklin] so hopefully Saturday we’ll be ready and not make as many mistakes that we did today.”
Franklin volleyball (3-0) returns to action on Saturday when they hit the road to Wrentham to take on the Warriors in a rematch at 1:00.