By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Over the years, the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern volleyball showdowns in city series play haven’t been very competitive affairs.
However, the Rams are always up to the task, fighting, scratching, and clawing against the Lancers – a state power for nearly a decade now.
But on Thursday, Oct. 23, the teams dueled it out in what turned into the most competitive bout of the series in quite some time.
Central gave Eastern three tough sets of action but in the end, the Lancers pulled out a 3-0 match sweep from the Charles C. Marsh gymnasium on in the campus of Bristol Central.
The Rams never quit in a very back and forth affair and nearly pushed Eastern to the brink.
In fact, that match was close as close could get between the squads.
“I couldn’t be happier or prouder of the way that they played,” said Central coach Jen Broderick.
Seven lead changes and 15 ties underscored the competitiveness of the event as Central were mere points away from seizing a set or two.
“I thought Central played hard,” said Rivoira. “I thought they fought hard. I thought they played to win and they put a lot of pressure on us to make plays.”
Still trying to figure things out with injured captain, junior Cydney Martin, on the sidelines, Central had many standouts in the game.
Allie Martel, had 18 digs, six kills, and made all 11 of her serves to lead the Rams, who moved to 7-12 in the loss with one match left to play.
Taylor Jacquemin had 11 service points while Lilly Sundgren chipped in 16 assists and was 13-of-13 on the serving front.
Junior Alexa Caron added two blocks and six kills in Central’s outstanding effort.
Brittany Stancavage hit 5-of-6 serves, Hailee Velazquez went 11-for-11, and liberio Autumn Blasi added 8-of-8 from the back-line.
Midway through each of the sets, Central held leads but experienced Eastern, even without All-World setter Brianna Root unavailable in the match due to injury, managed to control those games late to make it a sweep and move to 16-2 overall on the season.
“We had opportunities,” said Broderick. “We had them. We were doing everything right.”
With the slick Root not available, it created opportunities for others and a huge starting assignment for Hannah Langlias.
In the end, she probably earned Player of the Game honors off a truly gritty performance as the lights were shining its brightest on the one of the biggest stages of the season for the Lancers.
“Hannah didn’t find out until yesterday that she was going to set for us today,” said Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira. “And she never played a varsity game in her life. Nerves and with it being a rivalry game, I thought she did very well considering the situation that she was in.”
Langlias zipped up an impressive 38 assists, went 14-of-15 on the serving front, and while it wasn’t a picture perfect outing by the sophomore, it was a huge performance by the youngster none-the-less in a very tough spot assignment.
But the veteran core came through in this one for the Lancers.
Megan Gettings had a huge performance, tallying 17 kills, 11 digs and went a neat 8-for-8 on serving front in the final in one of her all-around best games of the season while veteran hand Bailey Wyrebek (34 digs, 9-for-9 serving) was everywhere on the back line, directing the troops, and showed some invaluable leadership.
“Megan and Bailey definitely had stronger games today,” Rivoira said. “I think they were big in helping our offense and our defense, keeping us in the rallies and having the defense in the back-row helped us.”
Shannon Michelson also played well, adding 12 digs in the winning effort while Saige Ryan didn’t miss a serving attempt in nine tries for Eastern.
Savannah White and reserve Brianna Wilson played well on the front line as did Chyna Barrett.
Charline Plaszynski went 3-for-3 serving and Angela Daley made timely kills throughout match play.
Cynthia Fendt also did a serviceable job for the Lancers.
The win also gave the Lancers another 14-0 season in league play and, accordingly, another undefeated path to the CCC South Championship.
Those sets against Central, that all came down to the wire, belonged to Eastern late.
Two sets were tied late, 21-21 and 23-23 while the final was a 23-22 tilt before experienced Eastern showed their usual poise to knock out the Rams.
“It all comes down to the fundamentals,” Central coach Jen Broderick said. “I told them what was going to win the game was staying focused, good passes and playing defense.”
“Those four or five points, those unfocused (times) that we had is the difference…you can’t make those mistakes against Bristol Eastern.”
Serve-receive was an issue for Central early in set one as Eastern took a quick 6-1 push off the serving of Daley.
Central used a quick 10-3 push, powered by a Martel ace, to nab an 11-9 edge.
That lead would grow to 14-11 but a 9-3 Eastern jaunt – keyed by some Central gaffs – got the Lancers ahead by a 20-17 tally.
But it would turn into a 21-21 game before a 4-0 run, ended by a Langlias serve that was not returned, as Eastern won the first match by four, 25-21.
The second bout saw a similar pattern as the first with Eastern taking the initial lead and then watching Central make a run to snatch it away from the Lancers.
A 5-2 push, led by an ace from Velazquez – gave the Rams an 11-8 lead midway through things.
“Overall, our serve receive was not where it needed to be in order to help Hannah set the ball well,” said Rivoira. “I think we struggled at times with some indecision out on the court.”
Eastern quickly regained the edge and then it was off to the races once again.
The set moved into a 23-23 stalemate before a bad Central serve and then a powerful Wilson kill ended the stanza as Eastern won it by two and the Lancers led the match by that same tally.
And for the third straight tilt, the tale of the scoring drive was repeated.
A Gettings slam and kill made it a 10-5 game before Central used a 7-0 push, ended with a Stancavage shot that was not returned, gave the home squad life at 12-10.
Then Gettings’ crisp serving sank the Rams as Eastern nabbed an 18-12 lead and never looked back.
That was until the Rams made one last ditch run at it, closing on 24-23 after an Eastern error made things interesting.
But a long Gettings kill ended the match as Eastern nabbed a 25-23 win and a sweep of the Rams.
For Central, it was the final home match for seniors Lilly Sundgren and Taylor Jaquemin.
“For my seniors, it was a great way to play they’re last home game,” said Broderick. “They played their hearts out. I couldn’t be happier with Lilly or Taylor.”
NOTES…But thanks to a 3-0 sweep over New Milford, Central qualified for the state tournament once again.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE