By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – In the biggest test of the year to date for the Bristol Eastern volleyball squad on Thursday, Sept. 24, a passing grade meant a victory over undefeated Glastonbury while a failing one meant a trip back to the drawing board and a tough loss.
And against the extremely talented – and tall – Tomahawks’ squad, the Lancers passed the test with flying colors.
It might have taken five games, but it was a decisive fifth and final set that eventually sank Glastonbury by a 3-2 push in a Central Connecticut Conference interdivisional war from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol.
It was a huge team effort to topple previously undefeated Glastonbury and predictably, Eastern’s veteran core stepped up to the challenge.
Bailey Wyrebek was critical on the Eastern back-line as she delivered several critical digs (eight) while her serving was flawless on the afternoon.
And then there was her defense as well, a steadying influence on the Eastern squad.
“Her serving as well as her defense was a huge part of this (win),” said Rivoira of Wyrebek. “Her serving was key at a lot of moments.”
Angela Daley thrived when she was on the outside of the net as she blasted Glastonbury for 11 kills and also slipped in six aces.
It might not had been Megan Gettings best game, according to Rivoira, but one of her 12 kills always seemed to come at a critical moment when Glastonbury was looking to string a run together.
Those three captains led the charge in Eastern’s biggest match of the year.
Mikayla Martin (two assists, eight points) had a big game at the net as well while Chyna Barrett (eight kills, two assists) dropped in four critical serves during what was a pressure packed set five for Eastern.
“I think Chyna’s serves in the last game came up big,” said Rivoira.
Hannah Langlais (six digs) helped move the ball around the court while setter Jessica Kenney (32 assists) set up her teammates with a little style while her serving was also critical.
Senior Paisley Tucker (seven kills) also snuck in a kill or two in the victorious effort when the pressure was on.
The Warhawks were pesky, forcing a fifth and deciding game that could have gone either way.
And after jumping out to a 6-1 lead in the final stanza, the Lancers never turned back.
“I think overall, it was a great test for us,” said Rivoira. “We needed this. We haven’t been tested like this. We knew they just came off beating Southington and that’s huge because we need to know where we stand and what we need to work on.”
Ally Koss (23 assists, 13 digs) did a solid job, setting her tall mates on the Glastonbury side with several low serves that crashed down on the Eastern side of the court.
But the taller Tomahawks couldn’t put the thing away in the fifth and final tilt.
Eastern won game one, fell in set two, bounced back in the third period, before just letting the tilt go in the fourth thanks to some critical miscues – creating a 2-2 stalemate that needed the final 15-point, fifth set to determine the ultimate victor.
“We obviously did not play a great second or fourth game,” said Rivoira. “We gave them a lot of points on our errors. So knowing that we gave them a lot of points and we still were really close also says something about our team.”
The match featured 10 lead changes and 19 ties – most of which came over the final three sets of the outing.
But it was all Eastern in game one and when Gettings slammed home a kill, Eastern led 6-1 and the visitors never got closer than three points of the lead the rest of the way.
Later in the first, Tucker deflected a shot, Daley dropped in a slam, and on Glastonbury’s final bad serve of the period, Eastern put the thing away.
Two additional errors, coupled with a game ending ace by Daley, and the Lancers zipped up a 25-17 win to go up 1-0 in the match.
But the worm turned in the second set and the match was afoot.
Eastern never led and trailed 19-10 on an ace from Glastonbury’s Cam Hendricks.
But a 6-1 run closed the deficit as Barrett made a kill, Gettings slipped in a shot that wasn’t returned and when Glastonbury made an error, the visitors were only in front, 20-16.
The Lancers simply couldn’t creep any closer as Eastern dropped its first set of the year, 25-19, and the match was knotted at 1-1.
“They were the best team we’ve played so far,” said Rivoira of Glastonbury. “They gave us a lot of competition. They would think about where we were putting the balls. They really forced us to make good plays. We couldn’t have overpasses, they’d make us pay.”
“We couldn’t put the ball really tight, they would block us.”
Errors continued to plague the Lancers into the third set and the home squad trailed 12-10 before Eastern made a game end ing run to take the stanza.
This time, a 14-2 push – fueled by aces from Daley, a tap over by Martin and several kills led by Kenney set-ups – nixed the Glastonbury effort and Eastern won the set by a 25-16 final – going in front two games to one.
But pesky Glastonbury refused to yield and once again, the visitors took another game.
It was a set of runs, seeing Eastern lead 6-1 before trailing 7-6 in what turned into a wild game four.
There were 10 ties and four lead changes alone in the stanza and when the Warhawks were charged with a double-tap violation, the set was all tied up at 23-23.
But two bad Eastern serves and one final Glastonbury kill gave the team a 25-23 win and forced one deciding set in the deciding game in the 2-2 deadlock.
And even as Glastonbury jumped out to a 1-0 lead in set five, Eastern took charge of the final tilt very quickly.
Gettings dropped in a slam off a broken play while errors propelled Eastern to a quick five point lead.
“Anytime you play a team five games, getting ahead in game five is key,” said Rivoira. “It’s a mental game. Game five is completely different than one, two, three, and four because if you start losing points, it’s really hard to come back.”
“There’s a lot of pressure in game five so I thought they handled that pressure really well.”
Barrett then dropped in some nonreturnable serves and when she was finished, Eastern was leading 12-3 and the Warhawks were just about out of it.
Gettings tallied one final kill, Glastonbury put a serve into the net. When a Hendricks slam went out of bounds, Eastern wrapped up a 15-5 set win and a 3-2 match victory.
Moving to 5-0 on the campaign, Eastern showed the competitive edge and composure that has been the trademark of the Lancers’ successful program for several years now.
While there are still things to iron out, Eastern seems to be getting into midseason form at the perfect time.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Rivoira of her team. “I think that at the moments we were great, we were really great. We made things look easy and at other times, I think we gave them too many points on our mistakes. We like to force them to make them earn their points as opposed to giving them off our errors.”
“I think that’s something we’ll work on as we move forward but it’s nice to come out on the winning game like this.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE