By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern volleyball squad did exactly what it has been doing over the past 24 years or so when it comes to city series play against Bristol Central on Monday, Oct. 22.
And that’s winning.
But the Rams, as of late, like to make the Lancers sweat throughout the matches – putting up big plays, generating timely kills and forcing extra sets that Eastern would rather not play.
However, the city stage in scholastic volleyball remains a Bristol Eastern production as the team downed pesky Central three games to one from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium.
Over the first two sets, it was a slow burn for Eastern to put away Central but off game scores of 25-19 and 25-13, the home team led 2-0 and looked to be on the verge of a sweep.
But in that third game, Eastern took its foot off the gas a bit, mistakes began to pile up and once Central earned the lead, the squad kept it as the defense made big plays to take the set 25-16.
“They really turned it on defensively,” said Bristol Central coach Holly Willette of her squad. “We started covering ourselves. They were in it, they were fired up and that is Bristol Central volleyball. We see it, it’s there [and] now we just have to get consistent.”
But Eastern led that final game wire-to-wire, seizing a 25-15 victory to eventually take the match in four games.
Aliana Rivoira led the Lancers with three kills, eight digs, three aces, and 40 assists while teammate Bella Nozzolillo sized up 10 kills and blocked three shots along the way.
Central’s Kathryn Ross jammed home eight kills while Gwen Torreso highlighted an excellent defensive effort with 23 digs.
Peyton Greger (five kills) also dropped in several kills to make Eastern work a little bit harder that evening.
“She’s a fire ball. She’s energy,” said Willette of Greger. “And Gwen Torreso tonight, her defense was outstanding.”
Eastern bungled five serves over the first set and that helped Central hang around over the opening two games.
“All year long, our serving has been our weakness,” said Bristol Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira. “We’re very inconsistent and practice hasn’t helped that much and we talked about that before we started the game that in order to win this game, we have to serve well and pass well. The rest will take care of itself and in game three, we did neither one of those and our game unraveled.”
“And [Central] got momentum and took advantage of our mistakes.”
The first set alone saw five lead changes and 11 ties as neither team generated more than a two-point lead over most of the stanza.
Tied at 17-17, the Lancers scooped up four straight points – including an Alex DiMattia (20 digs, two aces) serve that was not returnable – as Eastern nabbed a 21-17 edge and never looked back.
Nozzolillo and Rivoira later combined for a block and off two consecutive Central errors, Eastern won the first set 25-19 and led 1-0 in match play.
“I think we’re a slow-starting team in general right now,” said Willette. “And I think we’re young and it’s something that we need to learn how to come out from the gate with fire and focus and intensity to really go after the team right away and not kind of get down by those few points and having to battle the rest of the way out.”
But that same sluggish start in the second set for Eastern saw Central hang around and off a bad Eastern serve, the Rams held a 7-6 lead.
Eastern then went on a bit of a run as Taylor Keegan (three aces) delivered a few serves that did not come back over the net and her final ace led to a 7-0 burst and a 13-7 cushion for Eastern.
“She put the ball in…simple serve, put the ball in the court,” said Rivoira of Keegan. “Volleyball is not that difficult. Do the simple things well. Go to the end line and put the ball on the court.”
But Central came back with three straight points and when Kayla St. Onge (three kills, four digs) stepped up with a kill and then an ace, that deficit was down to three at 13-10.
Eastern responded with a 4-1 run with kills by Nozzolillo, Amber Blais (10 kills, 17 digs), and Zoe Lowe (12 kills, two aces, 14 digs) and an ace from Rivoira making it a 17-11 game and the Rams never crept any closer.
The Lancers scored six straight points to end set No. 2 and wrapped up a 25-13 win to take a 2-0 lead.
“They’re a great team,” said Willette of Eastern. “They pick up everything. They swing hard…they’re an awesome volleyball team.”
But those mistakes finally cost Eastern in set three as a 5-3 lead quickly became a 12-6 deficit via a 9-1 Central run that saw an ace by Clark and kill from Emily Ericson (four kills) put the Lancers in a deep hole.
Eastern simply wouldn’t quit and off the serving of Rivoira, a 5-0 run trimmed the deficit to 16-14 with the home team, and its partisan crowd, surging.
But Central looked sharp to close the third set, putting up a 9-2 burst to snatch the third game as one final Eastern miscue gave the Rams a 25-16 set win and life in the match.
Game four, however, was all Eastern as the program started the frame on an 8-2 sprint and when a Lowe kill was blocked out of bounds, the Lancers were on cruise control.
“I think that we kept our composure and we were keeping the ball on our side of the court,” said Rivoira of game four. “In game three, the ball kept going on [Central’s] side of the floor. We had to serve-receive [and] we were on the defensive. In the last game, we were able to keep the ball in our possession a little bit more and serve more than we did in game three so that made a big difference.”
The Rams trimmed the deficit to 10-6 midway through the frame but Eastern was starting to string points together as Central’s mistakes proved costly.
Nozzolillo blocked a shot that fell in for a point late and off a Central gaffe, Eastern led 20-8.
The Rams got within nine points late before bowing out off one final Lowe kill – propelling the Lancers to a 25-15 set win and a 3-1 victory in the match.
“I think all around there were such wonderful things from every single person on the court tonight at times, at moments,” said Willette of Central. “We have to learn to keep our heads up when we get down and keep pushing and playing and not kind of internalize and start playing scared and safe.”
“We just [have to] play hard with fire and intensity.”
Eastern did make mistakes during match play but the squad has the ability to compete with all the top Class L schools in the state if those miscues can be dealt with come the postseason.
“I just think the bottom line is if we want to go further, we have to execute,” said Rivoira. “We can’t miss so many serves. That’s going to kill us in the end because against very good teams, they challenge you and if they take the momentum from you, it’s very hard to get it back. We need an answer for that. It’s something we struggle with and we’ll continue to work.”
NOTES…It was senior night at Bristol Eastern and the program honored its five seniors before the match. Those seniors were Alex DiMattia, Olivia Beaudoin, Bella Nozzolillo, Amber Blais and Aliana Rivoira.
“I think it’s an emotional night for any Senior Night, so there’s always that weight that this game carries to it for the seniors,” said Rivoira. “And [Bristol Central’s] been close, so I think they were a little jittery but they also have the experience they need to rely on. I think they did what they needed to do.”