ORANGE -- The unbeaten season unraveled at the worst time for the Lee volleyball team.
The Wildcats couldn't hold a seven-point lead in the decisive fifth set of the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal, allowing host Mahar Regional to rally for a 25-23, 17-25, 25-22, 8-25, 15-13 victory.
"We had some lapses in passing," said Lee coach John Warner. "It's just the nature of volleyball. The ebb and flow of the game is such that you're going to get a team that's going to go on a run. Unfortunately, they went on a few too many runs."
For a while, it seemed like the big runs would belong to the No. 3 Wildcats (20-1). After losing two of the first three sets, Lee exploded in the fourth, winning the first 11 points behind the serving of Lauren Richardson. The lead ballooned to 17-1 and the Wildcats forced the decisive final set with ease.
Richardson again threw up serve after serve in the fifth to build a 7-0 lead. Then, it began to fall apart.
"The important thing when you get a lead is to keep your intensity up," Richardson said. "[We] just didn't do it. In volleyball, one of the most important things is anticipation and I feel like there wasn't a lot of that. But with such a big middle hitter like that, there's really not much you can anticipate. You never know where the ball's going to be going."
That middle was Mahar's Sabrina Silva, who had 22 kills on the night. She rallied Mahar (16-5) in the fifth with three straight serves that tied the set at 10. With the scored tied at 13, Katherine Donelan served for the Senators, tagging the line with an ace to set up a match point. The Wildcats got caught at the net on the next serve and the ball hit the floor, ending the match.
"I was really nervous. I thought [the first serve] was out and I almost cried," Donelan said. "I was just thinking we needed to push it and we needed to win because we wanted this more than anyone else."
It was a tough loss to swallow for Richardson and her teammates. The senior finished with 10 kills, seven aces and 21 assists while Katie Morin added 12 kills, 12 blocks and 15 assists.
Silva presented a challenge throughout the match, scoring two big hits late in the first set victory. Richardson finally gave the guests momentum in the second, rattling off four straight serves late to help Lee finish on a 7-1 run to tie the match.
The Wildcats blew an 18-11 advantage in the third, allowing Mahar to take a 2-1 lead. It was, unfortunately for Lee, a sign of what was to come in the fifth set.
"It feels awful," Richardson said. "I wanted to win this game more than anything. Now that volleyball's over, volleyball's my life. I don't know what to do."
The first loss of the season leaves Lee licking its wounds, Warner said.
"We fully anticipated winning Berkshire County [this year]," he said. "Then, it was a matter of seeing how far we could go. We were hoping to get to the Western Mass. finals. It's a bit of a letdown in light of the fact that we were right there. We had that match right in our hands."
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