Athol spikers hold off Mount Everett in 4
ATHOL — A slow start in the fourth game had Athol High School’s volleyball team reeling and a potential fifth set looming. Head coach Amber Parker urged her team to claw its way back one point at a time. The strategy worked as the Lady Raiders advanced to the WMass Division III quarterfinals with a 23-25, 25-15, 25-15, 26-24 over No. 10 Mount Everett, Thursday, in Mallet Gymnasium.
“We battled and battled,” said Athol head coach Amber Parker. “We kept so many balls alive and we had a lot of heart.”
The Eagles entered the fourth set hoping to extend the match to a winner-take-all game five and jumped out to an 11-3 lead. The lead was 15-6 following a string of three consecutive aces and the Raiders looked destined for defeat. The group responded by chipping away behind a strong service run from sophomore Julia Ramos to tighten the match up at 17-15. The deficit was three (22-19) when senior Shelby Roussel took over the serve. The Raiders made it a two-point game after the Eagles were called for a double-hit at the end of a long rally. After a Mount Everett hitting error brought Athol within one, Roussel ripped off an ace to tie the match at 22.
“Rou(ssel) had a great serving run,” said Parker. “She was key. Put the ball in play, see what happens and it was huge for us.”
Ramos delivered a tip on the following point to put the Raiders up, 23-22. After a spike tied things up, the Eagles regained a 24-23 lead on a double-hit by Ramos. With a chance to win, Mount Everett’s Jess Abbott hit a serve well short to give Athol hope. The Raiders proceeded to win a remarkable point that saw both teams make miraculous saves to extend play before the Eagles finally failed to return the volley. Ramos followed with a tip that Mount Everett couldn’t return and the Raiders emerged victorious.
“That fourth set was hard,” said Parker. “We played with so much heart and just did not give up. There were some crazy long points and we battled to the end.”
Athol struggled with their passing while digging themselves a 7-2 hole in the first set. Strong play from Hope Parker and a pair of aces by Ramos allowed the Raiders to even the match at 13. A number of hitting errors plagued the Raiders over the remainder of the set as Mount Everett went back on top 23-19. A Tatyana Carrasquill kill halted the Eagles’ momentum and Parker backed it up with three straight service points to tie the match at 23. The Eagles salvaged the game after an Athol passing error and a game-ending spike by Kayla Krum.
“It took us a little while to adjust to the fact they don’t set the ball,” said Parker. “They were sending the ball over on the second hit and we were out of position. We have a drill called “chaos” and I told the girls they needed to go into chaos (mode). I felt like we adjusted to it in the second and third sets.”
The Raiders were able to put the disappointment of game one behind them as Parker’s serve got Athol off to a quick start in the second set. The match was still in doubt midway through when Carrasquillo’s spike gave her team a 15-12 lead. The Eagles proceeded to make a comedy of errors and senior Sophie LaRoche served up the final six points to give the Raiders a 25-15 win.
Ramos’ power serve got Athol going in game three as the Raiders took a 5-1 lead. A pair of Roussel kills helped the Raiders stretch their lead to 9-2. Mount Everett was able to cut the deficit to 18-14 before Paige Truehart toed the line. Truehart’s serve helped the Raiders increase their lead to 22-14. A pair of errors by Mount Everett moved Athol within a point of victory and junior Jess Soucie put it on ice with a game-ending block.
“Jessica has really played strong over the last three or four games and she was key tonight,” said Parker. “She battled and we felt like that was an area where we had an advantage and Jess took advantage of that.”
Parker noted Soucie’s mental toughness after she was removed from the serving rotation after the second game, but didn’t allow the change to phase her.
Parker led Athol with 18 kills and five aces. Ramos had 19 assists and eight aces.
The Raiders advance to face No. 2 Lee on Monday at 6:30 p.m. The Wildcats defeated Athol in straight sets back on Homecoming Day and Parker knows her team will have to be at its best to keep pace.
“I think they are beatable, but we will have to play fairly close to perfect and hope they don’t play their best,” said Parker. “It’s tournament time and anything can happen. If I had to bet on a team, I’d bet on my girls. They will play hard.”