BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- After losing the third game and coming up just short while winning the last four service points out of five, Kayla Crook thought the chance to defend the state championship for Barnstable was slipping away.
The senior setter’s effort on the service line in Game Three may not have been enough, but the senior showcased her experience in an epic five-game comeback for the ages as the Red Raiders shocked Lincoln-Sudbury, 3-2 (27-29; 25-14; 21-25; 25-18; 15-12) in the Division 1 State semifinals on the campus of Bridgewater-Raynham.
Crook was candid as the senior leader admitted a possible loss to end her career was on the horizon, and it crept into the back of her mind as the match was the Warriors’ to lose.
“Undoubtedly, it did but what popped into everyone’s head was the same thing was happening that happened with Newton North and we didn’t want it to recur again and we just wanted it so badly,” Crook said.
Crook was referring to the Lady Tigers ending the staggering 41-match win streak for head coach Tom Turco and his Red Raiders squad back in October. The loss had Barnstable on shaky ground coming into the state tournament but the senior-laden team didn’t miss a beat sweeping past Stoughton, Notre Dame of Hingham and their South Coast rival, New Bedford (2009 state champs), for Turco’s 18th South Sectional championship and their third consecutive trip to the state finals.
“It was time for the seniors to step up and not they reacted to losing the third game, but you had Kayla Crook come in there and serve bullets,” Turco said. “This wasn’t serve and hope – this was serve to win.”
After trailing 2-1, fellow senior Regan Bristol, who had a game-high 30 kills, finished off the equalizer game to knot up the score at two games apiece. But the momentum shift didn’t last long as the Warriors rushed out to a 4-0 lead in the pivotal fifth game. In fact, Lincoln-Sudbury (18-2) was up 9-3 in a game to 15 so Barnstable was six points from being eliminated but the rotation was coming together at the perfect time for Crook.
“I think the pressure is good for us and it is only going to help us improve and we just need to come out and start the games a little faster,” said the senior defensive specialist. “My first concern is getting (the serve) in and my second concern is picking a spot where I know that I could possibly get them out of system. We take instruction from Coach [Turco] and we just apply it.”
The two-time defending Division 1 state champions ripped off seven of the next eight points with Crook being an integral part of the shocking comeback. With the score tied at 10, Lincoln-Sudbury was understandably on their heels as they went from celebrating every point to realizing the shadow of Barnstable’s volleyball empire was staring back at them.
The Warriors were in a fifth and final rubber game for the first time this season and it was evident in the final seven points as the slide continued for the five-time Central-West sectional champs. They dropped five of the last unlucky seven points with uncharacteristic sloppy net play throughout. With seven of the nine players in the rotation being seniors, even head coach Judy Katalina was surprised.
“We have seven seniors here that just love volleyball and they were crying after the match but I don’t think it is because we lost, they were crying because they won’t be in the gym together tomorrow as this is a special cohesive unit,” Katalina said. “We had a six-point lead and we just made some unforced errors, nothing against Barnstable, because they made us make those unforced errors and we played tentative and played not to lose at the end and you aren’t going to win a match that way.”
The first game was the best of the bunch with Lincoln-Sudbury pulling out the rabbit at the end with a 29-27 victory, after stellar outside hitting play from Jessica Bursma (7 kills) and Amanda Sifferlen (15). But it was Barnstable junior Colleen Kenney who stepped up in game two and was the spark the Red Raiders needed to tie things up in the see-saw match.
The outside hitting of the Warriors was stifled for much of the match after Game One and the credit goes to the inside play -- the style Turco has lived with his entire career, of Barnstable’s middle hitters. But trailing 9-3 in the final game even had the tough-minded Turco on the ropes.
“We’ve been doing this for 25 years and we’ve been coming out of the middle, everyone knows it, and that’s just the way it is,” Turco said. “Sometimes you try not to have those thoughts but sometimes you sit there and say, [the seniors] have to get it done and I was a lot louder in Game One but I got to sit back and let them play.”
Sifferlen finished her fantastic senior season as one of the best outside hitters in the state for the Warriors but was stunned at the outcome of the match and lamented that the Warriors just didn’t finish the Red Raiders off.
“I don’t even know what happened. I know that we wanted it but I think they have a lot more experience being in a game like this and we were in foreign territory,” Sifferlen said. “When they started creeping up we got a little unnerved I guess but we needed to keep our positive energy and I think the situation came down us. We know we need to get up early, which we did, but this time we needed to keep going.”
Barnstable’s win sets up the rematch with Newton North, who actually split their season series with Lincoln-Sudbury for their only loss on the season. So Barnstable and the Tigers know each other well, but now the state title is on the line and Crook is excited for the opportunity to go out as a three-time state champion -- even if the loss wasn’t the first thing on her mind.
"I wasn’t even keeping count [of the winning streak], but I’m pumped, I’m so excited. It’s going to be a great game, I’m so excited. [Newton North] are a great team."