WORCESTER, Mass. – Following King Philip’s semifinal win against Melrose, Warriors coach Kristen Geuss commented that she wanted her team to go into its first Div. 2 game and play their style of volleyball. KP matched that expectation on Saturday afternoon at Worcester State, but unfortunately ran into an opponent that was capable of matching it.
Westboro, the unbeaten top seed, showed off its finals pedigree. The Rangers, who finished as runners-up last fall, were buoyed by their traveling support and pulled out a 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-23) victory. KP played well, but Westboro made every point difficult to come by.
“I think we hung with them,” said KP coach Kristen Geuss. “If the first set could’ve gone the other way, then maybe the momentum would’ve gotten us in that direction, but Westboro is strong and they did a great job. Maybe [the hitters] didn’t get into their rhythm the way that they usually do, but also the competition was better.”
The first set was always going to set the tone for the match. KP came into Saturday having won eight straight matches, all without dropping a set. The last time that the Warriors had lost a set was more than a month before in a match with fellow Kelley-Rex champ Attleboro.
Trailing 6-4, KP went on a 5-0 run and looked like it might have the top seed rattled. Ahunna James got it started with a kill and Madison Asprelli delivered three straight aces. When Westboro failed to get another ball over the net, the Rangers quickly called timeout.
James would add a block on the first point after the timeout, but Westboro very quickly regained its composure and then took control of the set. The Rangers went on a 12-1 run, including a couple points on the outside from Georgia Tyrrell and a couple of aces from setter Shannon Clark.
Missy Canning and Olivia O’Neil got blocks and Sami Shore had a nice kill in the middle to keep KP hanging around, but the damage was done. Westboro held on to take the first set and build momentum for the rest of the match.
The second set was close throughout, with the largest lead for either team being four points. Shore again gave KP a spark with a nicely placed tip and then a solid dig that led to a point. Canning went off the block for a kill and setter Kiera Hagen fired an ace to take an 11-10 lead. Clark caught the Warriors a couple times with quick pushes that dropped into the middle of the defense and the Rangers pulled ahead 19-15.
KP rallied. Emily Sawyer came up with a big block for a point and libero Ava Kelley hit a well-placed shot into the back corner that Westboro couldn’t return. The Warriors tied the set at 20 apiece, but again the Rangers had the answer. While Maggie Cardin was the main weapon on the outside, it was Annabelle Semeter in the middle who delivered a critical point to put Westboro on the brink, up 2-0 in the match.
“We tried to tell them that,” Geuss said when asked about battling the energy from a partisan Westboro crowd and not feeling down despite being still right in every set. “We were so close but yet so far. It never felt like we took charge of any set as we went along, but we stayed in it, we hung in there.”
The Warriors wouldn’t give up, as expected from a team filled with senior leaders. They came out strong in the third set and built an early lead. James blasted a pair of hits down the line, continuing her outstanding playoff performances, and Shore added another good hit from the middle.
Sawyer found the court with a tip and O’Neil split the blockers with a swing to put KP ahead 12-8 and force a timeout. As was the case after each timeout, the Rangers settled down and went on a run, this time winning six of the next seven points, led by Cardin’s swings.
Down 19-16, KP was able to stay calm and get back into the set. Shore delivered an ace that tied it and Sawyer came up with a big block to put the Warriors ahead 20-19. Hagen added another ace and KP was up 23-22 and looked ready to keep its season alive for at least another set.
But, Westboro was able to make the plays it needed. The Ranges won the next three points, with Cardin going down the line for a kill, a long back-and-forth rally ending with the ball in the net, and then Cardin blasting another hit off the blockers for the match- and title-deciding point.
“They’re an incredible team,” Guess said about Westboro. “They’ve been here before. They knew what to expect. We did the best we could and that’s all I can ask of them. They gave 100 percent. It’s always hard to have it end in a loss, but I couldn’t be prouder of the way they performed.”
It was a remarkable run for King Philip, which finished with 22 wins, a share of a third straight league title, and the program’s first-ever appearance in the state title game.
“It was just a great season getting this far,” Guess said. “This was the unspoken goal, the unspoken thing we wanted to achieve. It wasn’t about winning the Hock, it was always about going as far as we could in the tournament. I’m so proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”
“They were good games and I’m super proud of the way they performed.”