Wild comeback leads Panthers past Winnisquam

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Junior outside hitter Maddy Greene skies for a swing on the ball during the fifth set of MA's 3-2 come from behind win over host Winnisquam Regional in Tilton last week. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
September 15, 2014
TILTON It's hard to put too much stock in a win or a loss this early in the season. Having said that, the fight the Moultonborough Academy volleyball team showed last week will certainly pay dividends in the grand scheme of things.

The visiting Panthers, buoyed by the hitting of junior Logan Donovan late in the match, came all the way back from an 0-2 deficit, winning the final three sets for a 7-25, 21-25, 25-23, 26-24, 15-8 win over Lakes Region foe Winnisquam Regional High School in Division III action on Sept. 8.

"We had a couple of people step up and really start talking," said MA head coach Cori Schult, who no doubt earned the biggest win of her coaching career in just the second match of the season. "Logan coming on as a hitter, she started swinging and we got more and more confident as the match went along."

It was a tough loss for the Bears, which appeared destined for a 3-0 sweep after jumping out of the gates in dominating fashion.

"I'm disappointed," admitted Winnisquam head coach Mike Livernois. "They stopped playing late and waited for Moultonborough to make a mistake and they didn't. I hope they learned a lesson that the game's not over until that last point is scored."

It was a wild match, with the intensity of a postseason tilt though the level of play was hardly playoff-ready. Missed serves from Moultonborough plagued things, and Winnisquam stormed out thanks to the serving of Meghan LaBelle and Lindsay Raymond en route to a 25-7 victory in the opening set.

"We were serving well early and I think (Moultonborough) got a little frustrated," said Livernois.

The Bears got a big lead in game two, taking a 16-9 advantage before the Panthers finally began to get on track a bit. Winnisquam would take the second game via a 25-21 score, but MA was beginning to build its momentum by staying in and winning points.

"We were letting balls drop left and right in the first set," admitted Schult. "If you don't have confidence in what you're doing then you're going to struggle. Finally in the second (set) we started to look more like the team we've been seeing in practice."

The Bears appeared to have things in control once again in game three however, as they took a 22-14 lead behind the serving of senior setter Erica Doubleday. But Donovan stepped to the service line with her team down 23-20, and she served five consecutive points, including a big kill from freshman Alexa Price to earn a 25-23 win that extended the match.

"When you have a team right there in your own gym, you have to put them away," Livernois said.

Game four was the tightest of the night, as the teams were tied at 19-19, 20-20, 21-21, 23-23 and 24-24. Winnisquam had match point up 24-23 behind a kill from Becky Rapoza, but a service error allowed the Panthers to stay alive. A hitting error gave MA set point, and thanks to a huge dig from Carlee Morgan in the back row, Donovan was able to put down a kill to force a decisive fifth set with a 26-24 win.

"We gave (MA) opportunities in game four and they took advantage," Livernois explained. "And then they carried that momentum into game five. We used a lot of energy in game four and that hurt us because you never want to play a game five they're too short."

It was all Panthers in the decisive set, as MA jumped out to a 6-2 lead and never trailed. Winnisquam would pull within 6-5, but the Panthers closed things out on a 9-3 run behind big kills from Maddy Greene and Brianna Lear for the 15-8 win.

"It's huge to have this experience," said Schult of the comeback win. "We know that we can look back at this in the future and say we've done this, we've come back before and we can do it again."

Donovan's eight kills paced the Panthers offensively, with Greene and Jamie Mason chipping in three a piece. Donovan added four aces while Greene contribute three aces, and the setting duo of Price (15) and Veronica Diltz (eight) combined for 23 assists. Mason totaled 15 digs while Morgan tossed in 10 digs in the winning effort.

Marissa DeBlasie led all hitters with 13 kills for Winnisquam, and the junior added 10 digs defensively. Rapoza was also in double figures with 10 kills and 10 digs, while Jaila Remillard and Raymond each totaled four kills. Doubleday dished out 28 assists on the night while Dakota Austin (11 digs), Kaylyn Dion (six digs) and LaBelle (four digs) led the defensive effort.

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