FITCHBURG, Mass. -- Newton North seemed to be heading down a road that was all-too-familiar. After reaching and falling in the Div. 1 Championship each of the last two years, the Tigers once again found themselves in familiar territory, trailing Andover 2-1 entering a potential clinching fourth set.
But rather than face defeat one last time, seniors Tess Simmons, Madeleine Lundberg and Kristin Copley rallied the rest of their Tigers team behind them and lead Newton North on a 15-1 run to capture a swift victory in the fourth set to force a deciding fifth game.
Riding the wave of momentum and taking advantage of a handful of unforced Golden Warrior errors, Newton North pulled through with a 15-10 victory, lifting two years of championship defeat off their shoulders.
“It's one of the most incredible feelings I’ve ever had,” Lundberg said. “To watch from the bench the last two years and watch the team fall apart and lose it’s a really hard feeling, I really feel for Andover because they played so well but to finally be on this side, words cannot describe how I feel.”
It was Lundberg’s block that clinched the Tigers Div. 1 title. Andover’s top-hitter Wyllie Boughton was set up for the kill but a well-timed leap from Lundberg sent the ball back over the net to seal the win.
“I think I went up and I could feel it hit my hands,” Lundberg recalled. “You know what is going to happen based on how it hits your hand. But it went off a wrist and it went down.”
Andover looked well-polished in the opening set, quickly down the Tigers 25-12 behind an impressive offensive performance from Boughton. The junior logged five kills in the opening set as the Golden Warriors raced out to a 9-1 lead and never looked back.
With the Golden Warriors threatening to run the Tigers out of the building early, Newton North gathered themselves and responded with a hard-fought 25-21 second set victory thanks in large part to a pair of aces down the stretch from Lundberg.
“Andover played the perfect game in that first set, they served everything, the dug everything, they blocked everything,” Tiger coach Richard Barton said. “No team can be that good. At some point we realized that they cant be that good.”
Tied at 18 in a pivotal third set, Andover used their defense and quickly turned it around into offense. Cece Root and Colleen Mullins along with Boughton shined down the stretch as Andover landed seven of the final 10 points to take the all-important 2-1 lead but never replicated that success in the final two sets.
“Confidence, we just lost our confidence,” Andover coach Jane Bergin said. “You know kids are kids and they are not at the college level where they haven’t had that success and haven’t been on this stage.”
While no one on the Andover team had reached the State Championship game, they have had plenty of experience on the big stage. Each of the last two years the Golden Warriors won the North Sectionals, just to fall short in the state semi-finals.
That extra bit of experience was the difference maker in the fourth and fifth sets as Barton’s Tigers stayed focused until the final block from Lundberg.
“It's so emotional but you can’t give out any emotion throughout the whole tournament until right now,” Barton said. “You can’t get excited, have to stay calm and keep everyone prepared but its such an accomplishment if you can keep your team centered and focused.”
Division 2: Hopkinton 3, Weston 0
Volleyball tends to be a game of runs, but in Saturday’s Div. 2 title game, all those runs went in favor of Hopkinton.
After both teams shook off early jitters, the Hillers put together three lengthy runs that ultimately topped the Wildcats in straight sets, capturing the Div. 2 title with 25-17, 25-22 and 25-14 victories.
With a senior-laden lineup, the Hillers were all in for a championship run this season. Hopkinton had failed to break through the ranks of the Div. 2 Central sectionals the last three years but this season had a special feel to it after the Hillers cruised through tournament play.
“I feel like we have been right on the brink of this moment for quite a few years and this year everything came together, Hopkinton coach Margie Grabmeier said. ”We had a lot of seniors on this team and it really does make a difference with senior leadership.”
Tied at nine early in the first set, the Hillers put together a 7-0 thanks in large part to Hanna Engstrom’s three aces from the service line. After an even exchange the rest of the way, Engstrom sealed the win with a kill, giving Hopkinton a 25-17 opening victory.
After failing to find any sort of rhythm in the opening set, Weston began to key their offensive game plan around sophomore Athena Ardila in the second set. The Wildcats opened up a 20-13 lead thanks to nine kills from Ardila but form that point on, nothing went in favor of Weston.
Unforced errors allowed the Hillers back into the game, while Holly Adams supplied the offense and Hopkinton unleashed a 12-2 win to stun the Wildcats and take a 25-22 win to grab a 2-0 lead.
“That’s the thing I’m most proud of,” Grabmeier said. “We can come back from a deficit even when were on the verge of potentially losing a game, the seniors know what they are doing. They don’t have the word “lose” in their vocabulary.”
After seeing their second set lead evaporate in front of their eyes in a must-win situation, Weston had little left in the third set. The Wildscate never strung together more than two consecutive points and the Hillers utilized a 15-1 run and quickly downed the Wildcats to clinch the Div. 2 title.
“Every single player, on the court and off contributed and we feed off the fans,” Adams said. “Everyone put in 100 percent today.”
Weston had no answer for Adams’ offensive production as the senior captain notched 13 kills in the win but was a force on both side of the ball.
“Over six feet of hitting power for one thing but she’s a complete package, Grabmeider said. “That’s why she’s all-league MVP and all-state player.”
Division 3: Frontier 3, Case 1
Frontier coach Sean MacDonald and his Redhawks were gunning for their fifth consecutive Division 3 title, but win or lose he figured he was playing with “house money.”
The Redhawks survived a five-set scare in Thursday’s state semifinal win over Lynnfield, fending off five-consecutive match points to advance to the title game.
“Whether we deserve to be here or not, we probably don’t after Thursday but we are here,” MacDonald said. “We’ve been given a second chance and we are going to make the most of it. It felt like we we’re playing with a free roll and house money so lets make the best of it.”
Saturday’s state championship victory was much easier on the nerves of Frontier, as they took the final two sets 25-14 and 25-17 to clinch a ring for the thumb.
Cassidy Ciesluk was instrumental in the Redhawks victory, tallying 14 kills in the win, leading the charge early in the clinching fourth set with four quick kills as Frontier built an early 12-3 lead.
“We knew that we could win that set, we didn’t want to go into a fifth one,” Ciesluk said. “We wanted to show people that we could win and show we could five peat.”
After a back-and-forth battle to begin the first set, the Redhawks found their rhythm and built up a 22-8 lead. Case refused to go quietly however, notching 10 of the game’s final 13 points but ultimately fell to Frontier 25-18.
That momentum carried over to the second set for Case, as they overcame an early five-point deficit and behind an excellent offensive performance from Kaitlyn Kopecky, captured the second set 25-22.
“It was huge, I think that is a testament of our mental strength to be down that much in the first set and come back and win the second,” Case first year coach Michaela Goncalves said. “Any team could have crumbled after that.”
With the match deadlocked at 1-1, MacDonald was confident with his team moving forward as long as they cleaned up their play.
“We made 12, 13, 14 errors in that second set and we only lost by three so I said guys if we cut them in half we win. Lets just serve the ball and play.”
Frontier did just that, putting forth their best effort of the day and closing the set on an 11-2 run to take the pivotal third set.
Case battled back from another early deficit in the fourth set, but a pair of aces from Remi Quesnelle with the game tied at four launched Frontier ahead for the final time, closing the book on their fifth title.
“It never gets old,” MacDonald said. “Everyone talks about winning five in a row, but these teams are different so it’s a whole different thing every year.”