LEE — For the sixth consecutive fall volleyball season, the Lee Wildcats will play for a Western Massachusetts championship.
This time around, the Wildcats are emerging from a Class D bracket having collected back-to-back sweeps to punch their ticket for the title match. Lee is humming, following a demolition of county rival Lenox in Thursday's semifinal.
The Wildcats put away fifth-seeded Lenox 25-8, 25-9 and 25-12 in a match that lasted just 60 minutes.
Photos: Lee volleyball sweeps Lenox in Western Mass. semifinals
On Thursday at Lee, the Wildcats defeated Lenox 3-0 in a Western Mass. Class D semifinal match.
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No. 1 Lee moves into Saturday's title bout against another in-county foe in Mount Greylock. The second-seeded Mounties defeated No. 3 Turners Falls 3-1 on Thursday in Williamstown. The Class D final is scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at West Springfield High School.
"Another Western Mass. final, we're excited for it. It's a little different than normal, but we'll do a little more preparation for it tomorrow," said Lee coach Julia Warner. "We always get right back in the gym and we'll have some things to clean up. We're not perfect, that's for sure."
It may not have been perfect, but Lee played about as well as it has all season.
The Millionaires led 3-0 in the first set off an opening spike by Danielle Miller. From there, Lenox managed just five more points in the set and was held to less than 30 total points on the night. Lee's defense withstood everything setter Kelly Nicotra and the Lenox offense could throw at it.
"In the beginning we weren't talking as much, but toward the end we came together and were just talking more," said Lee setter Makayla Schuerer. "I'm just glad we kept it up."
The Wildcats got cooking on the strength of senior Lizzy Brown's right hand. Schuerer set her up for a kill to earn Lee's first point of the night, and Brown landed four more kills to stake Lee a 5-3 lead. The Millionaires didn't get back in front on the scoreboard until early in the third set.
Another kill from Brown made it 9-4 hosts, and Lenox called its first time out. Visiting coach Noelle Skowron did everything she could to slow Lee, calling five timeouts in the match, but the Wildcats just kept coming.
By the middle of the opener, Kylie Joyce had slid into her money position on the left edge of the net, and she started firing bombs onto Lenox's defense.
The machine is clear and cooking. Lee rolls off a 25-8 win in first set vs. Lenox.Wildcats had 14 kills in the opener. 5 each for Brown and Joyce. pic.twitter.com/lnk8quk0yz— Mike Walsh (@WalshWrites89) October 28, 2021
"They played very well. They played clean, we brought a lot of offense. They struggled really just the first three points of the game," said Warner. "Those were messy and hesitant, but they got it out of their system and were able to be in control the rest of the night."
Joyce finished her night with 15 kills to go with seven digs and a pair of aces. She and Schuerer got on the same page and never left, as the Wildcats earned 17 of their 25 points in the first set.
Lenox got a little bit more traction in the second set, engaging in some lengthy volleys, but Lee seemed to always get the last laugh. Schuerer got Annie Herman involved in the offense, giving the Wildcats a third hitter Lenox had to account for at all times.
"We wanted to keep them out of their system, so that they'd give us a free ball or a roll, or something that's not as difficult to defend so that we could stay in-system," said Warner. "We can get the ball to our setter and be effective with quite a few of our hitters getting involved."
Schuerer doled out 29 assists and grabbed seven digs in the match.
Lee just overpowering right now. Wildcats take second set 25-9. Lenox in a 2-0 hole after Herman calls corner pocket off the Schuerer assist. pic.twitter.com/v907wek2g4— Mike Walsh (@WalshWrites89) October 28, 2021
By the third set, Lenox's Mia Giardina had calibrated the court somewhat and her hits from the back row started finding in-play parquet. She landed back-to-back aces early and the Millionaires followed those up with a Nicotra-to-Miller kill for the 4-1 advantage.
Lee simply bided its time, though. Schuerer found Brown and Herman for consecutive kills, and after a pair of unforced errors by the Millionaires, Schuerer fed Joyce for a thundering blow from the edge and it was knotted at 7-7.
Brown took over service and added three aces to her stat sheet while serving from a 4-7 deficit to a 13-7 lead.
Brown finished with six kills, five aces, five digs and a late-match block that doubled up Lenox at 22-11 in the third set.
"It was just the positivity, cheering each other on," said Schuerer. "Their positive was great, and they did a lot with the sets I got to them."