WMass volleyball: Lee survives a battle with Lenox to reach D-III championship

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LEE — For two and a half sets, the powerhouse No. 2 Lee volleyball team looked beatable. Entering the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal, the Wildcats hadn't dropped a set to opponent No. 3 Lenox in their two previous matchups. On Thursday, the Millionaires played like a team ready for the big stage of the Western Mass. tournament.

Lenox showed improvement, but with the game on the line, Lee took over and pulled away, earning a 3-1 victory and a third straight trip to the Western Mass. final. Lee advances to face No. 1 Frontier on Saturday at Holyoke Community College. The time is to be determined.

The game was back-and forth throughout, but the Wildcats flexed their muscles in the fourth set. Trailing two sets to one, Lenox started the fourth on a 7-1 run. Lee chipped away after a Lenox service error and kills by Sarah Cook and Ahna Schlaefer, respectively. Lenox responded, expanding its lead to 11-7, before a ball hit off the antenna, giving Lee a point.

With a possible fifth set looming, Schlaefer stepped to the service line and unleashed a barrage of strong serves. The senior reeled off six aces in an 11-0 scoring spurt, putting the hosts up 18-11. Lenox battled back, using a late 4-0 run to cut its deficit to two, but a service error allowed Lee to serve for match point. Sophomore Aliyah Noel's ensuing serve hit the net and rolled over, dropping in front of the Lenox defense for the winning point.

Schlaefer finished with eight aces. She added eight kills and three blocks. Lydia Morawiec had eight kills. Bailey Thomas had seven kills and three blocks. Suriana Lee had 23 assists and Anna Wang had 30 digs.

"I was just thinking keep the ball in, lets not give up the points." Schlaefer said of her strong serving run. "I wanted us to get back on track and start playing like how we're supposed to."

Lee's offense clicked in the fourth set, but the 'Cats appeared sluggish at times early. Lenox held leads in all fours sets and they did not trail in the second set. The third set was well-played on both sides, featuring five lead changes and eight ties. The visitors did a good job of spreading their offense around, getting contributions from several players. Bombee Lahart and Kianna Black had key kills in the set. Morgan Levesque's ace tied the set at 23, but a service error, followed by a Morawiec ace allowed Lee to pull the win.

Black led Lenox with 10 kills. Anna Lynch had 16 digs and three assists. Levesque had 28 assists, 12 digs and three kills.

Lenox couldn't force a fifth set, but coach Bessena Cabe said his squad has potential for success in the near future.

"Moving forward here, I think all of the girls can say that we have a good structure set up within our program," he said. "We're graduating six seniors and we're building up, developing the younger players to be even stronger."

12-time reigning Western Mass. champ Frontier awaits Lee in the title game. The Wildcats defeated Frontier 3-2 in the the regular-season finale. Lee coach John Warner knows the type of challenge the Red Hawks present. He added that while his team didn't play its best against Lenox, winning tight games is always a good sign.

"There's value in playing really tough competition going into [the championship]," he said. "The Wahconah match that went five [sets] was an excellent, excellent match. This is a scrappy Lenox squad. ... We've had some really good strong matches. That bodes well for us. We'll see what happens come Saturday."

Akeem Glaspie can be reached at aglaspie@berkshireeagle.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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