LEE — The Lee volleyball team has finally lifted the "monkey" off its back. The monkey being the eight-time Division III state champion Frontier. Not only did the Red Hawks defeat Lee in the Western Massachusetts Division III final last year, but they've knocked the Wildcats out of the postseason five times during coach John Warner's 14-year career. But on Thursday in front of a raucous home crowd, Lee finally defeated the giants of D-III, earning a five-set, come-from-behind win. The set scores were 19-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-22 and 19-17.
"He's been a thorn in my [butt] that I've wanted to beat for a long time," Lee coach John Warner said of Sean MacDonald and the Red Hawks. "It's a beautiful thing. We've finally broke that hurdle."
While Warner can point to this win as one of his biggest as a coach, the Wildcats put themselves in a 0-2 hole, making the comeback win even more impressive. Early on, Frontier did a good job of setting up outside hitter Lauren Davenport for kills. Davenport is an impressive athlete, leaping high and spiking the ball with great force. Davenport's offense and unforced errors by Lee were the biggest reason for the early struggles.
With the game on the line, Warner made an adjustment. He decided to use his team's height to its advantage, shifting two players to Davenport's side to set up a double block on the big hitter. This move was very effective, as Davenport could not find her rhythm for the remainder of the game. Her spikes went long, hit the net or were blocked completely by Lee's front line.
The Wildcats (14-1) jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the third set. A carry call and two unforced errors capped the rally. The Wildcats held leads of six and eight during the set. Kendra Williams and Lydia Moraweic combined for a big block at the net, putting them up 21-13. The Red Hawks got within four, but Haleigh Richardson's spike ended the set.
The fourth set was more of the same. Lee never trailed, as Davenport continued to try to locate her spike. With each win, Lee started to feel more confident on the court.
"We just had to think about putting more effort than we did the first or second game," outside hitter Shenna Tyer said. "We have to have positive energy, go out there and have fun, and make sure we played to the best of our ability."
Once the fifth set began, the atmosphere in the gym did not feel like a regular season game. The final set featured eight lead changes and 12 ties. Tyer's kill late in the set tied the set at 14. Ella Deane responded with a quick bump for a kill, putting the Red Hawks up one, but a service error re-tied the game at 15. The lead changed hands again as Deane registered another kill for Frontier, giving the visitors a 17-16 edge. That set up the series of the game, however, as Tyer showed great reflexes, extending a long volley with a diving dig that led to an unforced error from Frontier. Angelique Nejaime's ace put Lee up 18-17 and Frontier net touch sealed the win. Williams had 23 assists. Richardson had eight kills. Tyer had 10 kills and Anna Wang added 15 digs. Davenport had 10 kills. Selayna Bathurst had 15 kills and four aces. Deane had 43 assists and six aces.
After the game, Frontier players were visibly upset about the loss. With a 5-9 overall record, a win against the Wildcats would've put them in the tournament because they're one of two Division III teams on their schedule. Now their postseason lives hang in the balance until the final game of the season against D-III Southwick.
"Lee really stepped it up in sets three, four and five. Credit to them. It was a fun match," MacDonald said. "We made a few errors down the stretch and if that game goes to 25 who knows what happens. It goes to 15, we had a couple of match points and we didn't come through."
For Lee, exorcising their demons will do a lot for their confidence as they prepare to finish the season and return to the Western Mass. tournament.
"It really brings up the confidence in us," Tyer said. "Sometimes we have bad games and sometimes we have amazing games. This game really brought up our confidence and really makes us excited for the next [match]."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252