The Winnisquam fan section erupts after senior setter Elyssa Clairmont reached 1,000 career assists on Oct. 17. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
October 22, 2012TILTON – Elyssa Clairmont couldn't help but smile. It was her night.
The Winnisquam Regional senior had just finished one of the best nights of her volleyball career on Oct. 17. Clairmont not only led her Bears to a huge victory over previously unbeaten Farmington on Senior Night, but she also made program history, becoming the first player at Winnisquam to reach 1,000 career assists. Not too shabby as the Bears prepare to open the Division III postseason tonight.
"To be the first one at Winnisquam to do that, with all these fans here tonight, this is pretty special," admitted Clairmont. "Before this match, I think we had some doubts as a team getting ready for the playoffs. But beating an undefeated team, I think we all feel good about what we can do."
Winnisquam (12-4) put it together in a big way against the Tigers, as the host Bears captured a hard-fought 19-25, 25-18, 27-25, 14-25, 15-6 victory in front of a loud gymnasium in Tilton.
"I thought it was a great team win," said Winnisquam coach Mike Livernois. "The girls really came together and rose to the occasion. This is probably the best we've played all year and this is the way you want to go into the tournament."
Clairmont needed 18 assists to reach the 1,000 mark entering the night. Winnisquam's serve receive didn't help her too much in the early going however, as the Bears trailed for the entire first game en route to a 25-19 defeat.
Another milestone was reached in the second frame, as Farmington's Marissa Peart put down a kill for a 4-2 lead, giving her 500 career kills and forcing a stop in the action to honor the achievement.
Winnisquam stayed close in the second, closing within one point on numerous occasions before finally pulling even at 17-17 on a Felly Pelletier kill. Carissa Archibald put the Bears on top one point later with an ace, and she followed suit with a kill of her own for a 19-17 advantage.
Clinging to a 20-18 lead, Winnisquam closed out the win thanks to five straight points, as Bailey Long's kill on set point got the Bears on the board at 25-18.
"We didn't panic," lauded Livernois of his team. "Our passing improved and we served well after the first game."
With the journey to 1,000 assists fully on in the stands thanks to an assist-by-assist countdown, Clairmont reached the mark in the third set. With Winnisquam holding a 7-6 lead, Clairmont set up junior Hannah Chapin, who put the ball down for a kill that saw the stands erupt and play halt.
"She certainly earned it," said Livernois of Clairmont. "She only had 70 assists her freshman year so she had to average 300 assists a year for the last three seasons. So it's been a great run for her. She really has the best hands of anyone that I've been involved with."
With the build-up to the milestone weighing on her mind a bit, Clairmont said she was happy to get to 1,000 during such an important win.
"I just go out there and play my hardest," she admitted. "I think the hitters were more nervous than I was because they were trying so hard to help me get it."
Once play resumed after Clairmont was presented with flowers and a volleyball celebrating the accomplishment, the two teams engaged in a back and forth third set. Farmington led 22-18 and seemed destined to pull out a momentum-shifting win, but the Bears reeled off nine of the next 12 points to pull out a 27-25 win. The Tigers led 25-24 with a set point on the line, but Winnisquam scored the final three points to earn the victory.
Farmington (14-1) shook off the loss however, jumping out to a 10-1 lead in the fourth game and holding on for a 25-14 win. Livernois wasn't too disappointed however, as the Bears held the deficit to almost the same margin after the poor start.
"I think the adrenaline had worn off a little bit after everything that had happened so I called a timeout at 8-1 and then again at 18-10," the coach said. "And I just told them during the second timeout that you're playing with them. Let's just get the momentum back so we can get it going heading into game five."
That's exactly what happened, as the Bears took a 4-2 lead after Chapin put down a kill in the decisive set. It was 5-5 when Winnisquam took advantage of a Farmington error, and Mo Raymond followed with three kills in the next five points to five the hosts a huge spark. Archibald did the rest from the service line, helping the Bears end the match on a 10-1 run en route to the 15-6 victory that sealed the 3-2 win.
"The key in the fifth game is to break away fast," said Clairmont. "You have to be on top of your game because it's only to 15. You can't take too long to get going because by then, the match is over."
The win over Farmington was a big improvement over the first meeting between the squads back in the opening match of the regular season on the road. The Tigers swept that one 3-0, and hadn't lost a match all season until coming into Tilton.
"We had a lot to work on after that match and we've been preparing all season for another shot at them," Clairmont said.
Livernois was certainly pleased with the results.
"This team hadn't had a breakout game like this so we proved we're capable of playing at that high level," the coach said.
Clairmont finished with 31 assists on the night, entering the postseason with 1,013 career assists. She also tossed in five aces, giving her 243 for her career.
Chapin totaled 13 kills and 12 digs on the night, while Long (10 kills) and Raymond (eight kills) were also strong offensively. Archibald paced the defense with an impressive 21 digs, while libero Dallis Austin had seven digs in the victory.