WELLESLEY, Mass. – Momentum is a key to any high school volleyball match. Teams build up confidence and go on scoring runs, which is amplified when that run closes out a critical fourth set and keeps a season alive.
Groton-Dunstable went on that type of run in the Div. 2 Central final on Saturday afternoon at Wellesley High, winning nine of the last 11 points to pull out the fourth set 25-19 and force a decisive final set. The momentum from that run to keep the season alive, helped the Crusaders take control of the fifth and deny Canton its first sectional title since 2012.
The Crusaders won the fifth set 15-7, including eight of the last nine points, to beat the Bulldogs 3-2 (20-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-19, 15-7) and claim the Central title.
“It’s a game of momentum, but unfortunately in the end they had the momentum,” said Canton coach Pat Cawley. “They did carry it over [from the fourth set] and we didn’t have an answer for it. We played a little tight on serve-receive…we didn’t get our offense going at all.”
Canton got off to a strong start to the match in a back-and-forth opening set. Despite dealing with the strong hitting and blocking abilities of Crusaders star Lily Blodgett, the Bulldogs were able to get into a groove with Taylor Harris and Theresa O’Brien on the outside. The five-point edge that Canton ended the set with was the largest lead for either team in the first.
Groton-Dunstable answered right back with a dominant second set. Blodgett was in total control and had the Bulldogs out of sorts at the start, particularly middle hitter Erin Devine, who had a couple of hits blocked in the first and had to be creative to get good looks.
“She (Blodgett) blocked her a lot, but I was proud of Erin because she scored a lot of points in different ways,” Cawley said.
Devine and the Bulldogs bounced right back in the third and had their strongest set of the match. Devine got things started with a kill and then Harris added two on the outside, as Canton jumped in front 10-2. After the Crusaders cut the lead to five points, Harris again found a hole in the G-D defense for a big points and a 12-6 lead.
Everything seemed to be working for the Bulldogs in the third. Olivia Chinsen and libero Megan McDonough each had an ace, Rose Hazam came off the bench and was able to scramble a ball over the net that dropped in for a point, Bailey Shea had a kill in the middle, and Liz Bickett snagged a point for Canton as well.
The fourth set was also back-and-forth, as the two teams were within no more than three points of each other until the final stretch. Groton-Dunstable built an early 6-3 lead, but Canton answered right back with kills from Shea and Harris. Harris also earned a point with a block and setter Nicole Brown (who Cawley called the “glue of the team”) stepped up to the net for a block that made it 11-10.
With the score tied at 16-16, the Bulldogs won the type of point that had its fans thinking the trophy was heading to Canton. After a long rally between the teams, Harris managed to dig a tough hit, Brown hustled to keep the play alive and then McDonough not only bumped the ball back across the net from outside the court but also saw it drop in for the point and the lead.
G-D looked unfazed, winning the next three points to regain the advantage and force a Canton timeout. The set was closed out on back-to-back aces by Crusaders libero Peter White, who was a defensive stalwart for the Groton-Dunstable back line.
“Obviously, they didn’t let the ball fall on their side, so they could run their offense,” Cawley explained. “Their defense was better than just about any we faced this season.”
The fifth and deciding set started out even, with the teams trading the first six points. After a pair of Crusaders kills, Harris stepped up and found space down the line to make it 5-4. Carolyn Mullins, who stepped up in the middle when Blodgett was on the bench, had a kill and a block to extend the lead.
A kill from Shea and a mishit got Canton back within one and gave the Bulldogs hope that they could turn things around, but three straight points, including a pair of aces from White, put the Crusaders in the driver’s seat.
“We hung in their in the first half of the fifth set and then we had some trouble with serve-receive and we just couldn’t get out of it,” said Cawley.
Canton’s struggles with serve-receive continued down the stretch as the Crusaders won two more service points before Blodgett put an exclamation point on her night with one final kill to seal the championship.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my team tonight,” Cawley said. “None of them had played in the tournament before. This was the first time for every single one of them. Their growth from last year to this year has been amazing.”
For Canton (19-3), this was an impressive bounce back year. The Bulldogs regained their spot atop the Davenport division and reached the sectional final through a complete team effort.
Cawley said, “It was big growth in their confidence level as well as their skill level. They put all out there and it just didn’t go our way.”
She added, “I carried 18 kids on my team and I can honestly say for the first time ever all 18 of them I could put in there and feel confident. Every day someone new stepped up.”