By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When the Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern volleyball squads went to a fifth and deciding set during its crosstown showdown on Thursday, Oct. 25, it felt like stepping into a time machine.
The last time Central and Eastern went to a fifth game in a city series game, Rams’ coach Holly Willette was on the court for Central in a battle that the Lancers just snuck out.
Fast forward to the final week of October, and Willette and her squad from Central were tied up at 2-2 after four sets and leading 6-4 in the final game.
But Eastern used a 7-1 run to put the match away as the Lancers defeated the Rams 3-2 from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium in Bristol.
Set scores were 21-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-20 and 15-10 over a very entertaining bout.
Central last defeated Eastern back on Nov. 3, 1994 when the Rams ramped up a 3-2 win, keeping the Lancers out of the state tournament that season.
This match, highlighted by 12 lead changes and 25 ties, was an engaging affair that saw neither team snare a double-figure lead in any of the three sets.
In other words, the match was for the taking by either program.
“I think we were lucky to win that, honestly,” said Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira. “I felt as though they outplayed us all four games until the last one and the last one’s a whole different ball game because it’s only to 15 [points] and once you get behind, it’s very hard to gain momentum back because you only have a certain amount of time.”
Eastern senior Sienna White wrapped up nine kills and three digs while on the other side of the spectrum, freshman Zoe Lowe smashed down 16 kills while adding three assists and 12 digs.
Amber Blais also scored critical points, making 10 kills over the winning effort.
Ali Rivoira, running all over the court, bumped up 35 assists and set up her mates the best she could in another complete match effort.
“I feel that we didn’t utilize all our hitters,” said Rivoira. “We were mainly using Zoe and Sienna. They were generating kills from lots of different players. They were distributing the ball a lot which was making our defense have to move. I felt that we only had two hitters. Our other hitters weren’t really generating many points for us. Amber did come along as the game got going but as far as consistent swings, we were going out and to the right side.”
Alex DiMattia had eight digs, Paige McLaughlin collected five assists and 24 digs, Rebecca Bender dropped in two aces and nine digs and Gabby Nozzolillo added two blocks over the winning effort.
Central played near brilliantly, erasing deficits, making huge kills and frustrating the Lancers’ with its bigger front line players.
Brianna Saverino made a statement on the court, racking up 16 kills and 15 digs, Amanda Warner erased possible Eastern kills with 38 digs, Ashleigh Clark did a great job directing traffic on the court, and the duo of Kathryn Ross and Xia’ian Carrasco were big on the front line.
“They put it all together,” said Central coach Holly Willette of her squad. “They fought their hearts out and did not give up. They played a great game.”
The first set was up for grabs as things were knotted up at 10-10 before the Rams surged in front for good.
A 9-1 dash, highlighted by an ace from Emily Ericson, made it 19-12.
But Eastern eventually chopped the deficit to two until one final error propelled Central to a 25-21 set one win.
In set two, three lead changes and nine ties highlighted another back-and-forth stanza as Eastern had its collective hands full once again.
“I thought Bristol Central outplayed us point for point for point,” said Rivoira. “They served harder than us. They passed better than us. They hit better than us. They set better than us. They came ready to play. They made tremendous progress all through the year and they, really I thought, were the better team tonight.”
The Rams nabbed an 8-5 push early in the second fray but as Rivoira dropped in a serve that was not returnable, Eastern took the lead midway though things.
But Central retied the score several times and at 19-19, the Rams were looking to snare a 2-0 edge in the match.
However, the Lancers used a 6-3 spurt to close game two to tie the match up at 1-1.
“The games were pretty close,” said Rivoira. “It could have been anyone’s point and we just happened to have that moment where we could close and get that point.”
In the third game, it was nearly all Bristol Central.
Eastern was hanging around, trailing 7-5, before a 6-0 Central jaunt, including a tip-over at the net by Ross, propelled the home team to a 13-6 edge.
That lead ballooned to nine but Eastern, zipping up a 12-4 run, closed the deficit to one.
But Carrasco made a couple big hits to help secure the game three win, taking it 25-22, leading 2-1 in the match and Central appeared to be on the doorstep of something very big.
“We had a difficult time stopping their middles,” said Rivoira. “Their middles did a great job. Ashleigh [Clark] did a great job setting them so they could get a good swing on the ball and I think their passing contributed to that.”
Game four went to Eastern but the squad had to shake Central again as it was a 10-10 score midway though things.
Eastern slowly built its lead up and when Lowe flipped down an ace, the visitors were ahead on the scoreboard 20-15.
The Lancers held on to win by three points, 25-22, and a 15-point, fifth and final set was necessary to declare a winner.
And midway through that final tilt, Central edged up a 6-4 lead and was nine points away from breaking a long losing streak to the Lancers.
“Our defense, our passing…they worked their butts off and they went for it,” said Willette.
Eastern picked it up, going on a 5-0 jaunt, and quickly led 9-6 – never letting Central get any closer.
Mistakes cost the Rams late and when Lowe jammed down one final, loud kill, Eastern came-from-behind to nab a 15-10 set five, taking the match, three games to two.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Willette of her squad. “They’re an amazing group of girls and they’ve worked so hard for this moment. I obviously wish it went the other way but that was great.”
Eastern won the CCC South Patriot championship and swept the Rams once again but had to sweat out one heck of an effort by Bristol Central.
“I was frustrated by our inconsistencies but I think that’s been the story of our season,” said Rivoira. “I’m happy that we won. A win is a win, ugly win, whatever it is, and I’m proud the girls kept their composure. They could have very easily fallen apart and it could have gone the other way because they were putting pressure on us.”
“But in the end, we ended up making the plays we needed to but I think it could have gone either way.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.