By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central volleyball team gave Bristol Eastern another stern challenge on Wednesday, Oct. 30 – this time from the Charles C. Marsh Gymnasium from the campus of Bristol Central.
The Rams came out with zest but in the end, mistakes and gaffes foiled the effort as the Lancers nabbed a 3-1 match win behind scores of 21-25, 25-15, 25-22, and 27-25.
Eastern, the 2019 Central Connecticut Conference, Southern division champs, faced adversity off the bat, dropping the first contest by four as Central took a quick edge in the match.
However, there wasn’t any panic from the Eastern side as the Lancers went right to work – taking the next three sets to keep its undefeated ledger intact at 18-0 overall and 12-0 in CCC South play.
“We just had to be calm and stay focused on what we needed to do,” said Eastern middle hitter Ryley Ploudre. “It was a little nerve-racking but I think we all stuck together and really played calm and really played together and with a lot of heart.”
Eastern’s Zoe Lowe led the charge with 17 kills, 14 digs, and four aces in another all-around gem while Plourde was again fantastic in the middle with 11 kills, four blocks, and five big digs.
Brooke Dorsio nabbed a volleyball double-double of 10 kills and 10 digs; Hannah Webber added eight kills and two blocks; while back line leader Rebecca Bender ended the contest with 27 digs and 31 service points.
Ariana Caucci added two aces and five digs, Lucy Winarski had four digs while outstanding setter Leah Chipman zipped up two aces, two digs, and a slick 46 assists.
The Rams’ Kat Ross had a huge game with 20 kills, five aces, and three digs while setter Ashleigh Clark bumped up 32 assists.
Peyton Greger zipped up totals of four kills, seven digs, two aces, and 15 service points while Emily Ericson excelled with seven kills, two blocks, 15 digs, and dropped in five aces.
Also contributing for the Rams were Kayla St. Onge (two kills, two digs, Jadyn Bauer (two aces, four digs), and Brooke Soucy (six digs).
Central (14-4 overall) had chances in the contest to force a fifth set but just missed closing set four out.
“The intensity was there throughout the course of the four set match,” said Bristol Central coach Lance Pepper. “I think at times, we didn’t play to the caliber in which we had in previous matches.”
This time around, nine lead changes and 20 ties highlighted another back-and-forth affair; but it was the visitors who surged in front to open the game.
Eastern came out firing in the match off the serving of Chipman, leading to a 5-0 push to start set one; but a 16-7 Central burst – highlighted by kills from Ross and Greger – gave the home squad a 16-12 edge.
The Lancers chopped the deficit to 18-16 and even off a clean ace by Lowe, Central was still leading it, 21-18.
The Rams then stretched the lead out to six before a kill by St. Onge ended the first set as Central was a 25-21 winner to seize a 1-0 push in the match.
Central held a slim 3-2 lead to start the second set but the Lancers quickly went ahead.
Lowe got into a groove on the killing front; Webber put in two consecutive tip-overs for points; and off a Central error, Eastern strode up an imposing 18-9 edge in set two.
“The girls remind each other and they remind themselves that they’re playing for each other and at that point, it’s just an instant kick in and they take care of it from there,” said Eastern coach Stefanie Reay.
Central fought back as an ace by Bauer chopped the deficit to seven before a long push kill by Lowe, a block from Webber, and a miscue off an Ericson hit attempt gave the Lancers a 21-11 cushion, its largest lead of the contest.
But Ericson bounced back with a kill and two neat aces while a perfectly placed kill by Greger got Central within six at 21-15.
Lowe then flipped down two aces to end the set and when a kill from Greger went long, Eastern had tied the match up at 1-1 with its 25-15 set two victory.
Over the next game, Eastern trailed early before tying it up – one of nine stalemates in the third set – as both teams were trying to grab the pivotal game.
The Lancers broke a 19-19 tie when Webber sent a ball over the net that was never returned as Eastern never trailed again.
Set point saw the Lancers get to 24-20; but Ross added in a kill and when Caucci sent over a kill that fell out of bounds, the deficit was trimmed to 24-22 and the Rams were on the verge of trying up the set.
But Chipman helped to end the game as she made a great set to Plourde in the middle, easily jamming home the shot, and quickly, the Lancers won the game, 25-22, and held a 2-1 push in the match.
“We just have some sort of connection in the middle,” said Plourde of the middle hitters and Chipman combination. “Everything has been really good. We tag the ball really well. We’ve gotten a lot of touches on the block. We focus a lot on defense and our connection with Leah really helps a lot.”
In the fourth and final set, Eastern held an early 8-4 edge and later led 10-7 before Central made a huge run.
Ross started the jaunt with a kill, Clark served a ball that was never returned and via a 17-10 burst, the Rams were on the verge of forcing a fifth and final set, leading 24-20.
“They have a lot of skill, there’s no doubt in that,” said Plourde of Central. “They give us a challenge every time and it’s a fun game to play. They’re all really good hitters and they have really good defense. It’s always a really competitive game and it’s really fun to just play because we do play a lot of teams that are lower level so playing these games are really exciting for every one.”
However, that four-point cushion was wiped out when Chipman found Dorsio for a kill, the Rams made an error, a Ross tip-over was called out and when Ploudre’s kill was blocked out of bounds, the set was all tied up at 24-24.
A net violation on Eastern put Central on the brink of a final set but it never came to pass.
To end the match, Ericson mis-swung on a shot, Lowe landed a long kill to the back left side of the Central court and when Dorsio’s final serve was never returned, Eastern won the final set, 27-25, and took the match 3-1 to remain perfect on the campaign.
It was the final home match for Central seniors Peyton Greger, Ashleigh Clark, Kathryn Ross, Julia Paul, Avery Hamilton, and Makayla Bunker.
“Obviously, it’s an emotional night with senior night and being the rivalry and things like that,” said Pepper. “I mean, Bristol Eastern did a great job. They did not make as many mistakes as they did the first time and we really had to earn our points throughout the entire match.”
NOTES…In the Connecticut Girls Volleyball high school poll for Week 5, Bristol Eastern earned the number one spot for the first time this time, at 17-0, and earned 23 of 27 first place votes…RHAM (No. 2, 15-1) earned a first place vote, Westhill (No. 4, 15-2) tallied two first place votes while seventh ranked Fairfield Ludlowe (15-2) also took home a first place vote…USA TODAY High School Sports and the American Volleyball Coaches Association released its Super 25 Regional Girls Volleyball Rankings last week and Bristol Eastern made the poll once again.
And the Lancers were the only squad from Connecticut to be ranked this around as RHAM, a 3-2 loser to Eastern the previous week, was bounced off the rankings.
The top three in this week’s poll did not change as three New York state schools kept those slots again.
Region 1 is made up of six states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island and the Lancers were ranked fourth overall.