WESTMORELAND – The Morrisville-Eaton girls volleyball team knew who to feed when they needed to clinch the Center State Conference Division 3 title.
Wednesday night the Warriors were mired in a tight battle in the third set as the Westmoreland Bulldogs rattled off five straight points to grab a 22-21 advantage. Morrisville-Eaton leaned on its two senior stars as setter Emily LeBlanc and outside hitter Emma Baker connected on two of the final three points as the Warriors (11-1, 15-3) closed out a 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) league-clinching victory.
“It feels amazing,” Baker said. “We can really come together when things get tough. We just trust each other to play our positions and get it done. We played our game … basically just played Warrior volleyball.”
LeBlanc controlled the passing game and Baker came away with critical kills, including a few from the back line, as they were able to experience the first league title of their three-year varsity careers. LeBlanc finished with 34 assists, while Baker had 12 kills and 12 digs. Kendra Walts (11 kills, 12 digs) and Kim Chandler 10 kills, 4 blocks were also among the key contributors for M-E.
“It’s really exciting to win the league,” LeBlanc said. “It’s our senior year and the team is doing great.”
Westmoreland was led by Brooke Taverne’s 11 digs and five kills. Ally Golden (6 kills and 12 digs); Gabriella Ricci (2 kills, 6 assists and 6 digs) and Jenna Pastorella (8 assists and 3 digs) also had nice games for the Bulldogs (9-2, 16-2).
Westmoreland’s only two losses have come to the Warriors. Morrisville-Eaton edged the Bulldogs 3-2 on January 11. To defeat Morrisville-Eaton, the Bulldogs needed all hands on deck.
Unfortunately on Senior Night, the Bulldogs had to play without senior setter Janessa Rubino, who missed the game with the flu. The impact of Rubino’s absence was definitely felt from the opening serve as the Bulldogs were slow and sloppy early in the first set.
“(Rubino) usually has 15-20 assists per game, 5-10 digs and is a blocker on our front, so she’s pretty big for us,” Westmoreland head coach Andrea Metz said. “I have to give credit to Gabby (Ricci) because she had to take over setting and she’s never played there before.
“We got off to a slow start and weren’t moving our feet. The rest of the match, that’s on us. We needed to push harder than we did and needed to make better decisions with the ball. We tried to go back to the basics with our defense but we weren’t able to do that.”
Golden felt Rubino’s absence was really felt on defense.
“We had to completely change everyone’s positioning on defense,” Golden said. “They got up on us early and it was hard for us to come back.”
The Warriors took advantage of Westmoreland’s slow start and jumped out to a 4-0 and never trailed in first set. Trailing 21-16, the Bulldogs won the next four points to close to within one, but an error, a kill by Waltz and an ace by Lizzie Spring gave M-E set point.
The Bulldogs pulled to within a point on Taverne’s ace, but Morrisville won the set on the next point as Golden’s attempt at a set-tying kill flew just long.
Westmoreland got the start they needed in the second set and led 5-3 before Morrisville-Eaton sophomore Molly Holcomb won six straight service points to give the Warriors the lead for good in rolling to a 25-19 win to pull them within one set of the league crown.
The teams traded leads throughout the third set. Playing with a sense of desperation, Westmoreland played some of its best volleyball of the night in staying with the Warriors. The Bulldogs took the lead at 15-14 and then at 16-15.
The Warriors appeared to make the decisive run as Holcomb, once again, helped her team with four service points to turn a 16-16 tie into a 20-16 advantage. However, Westmoreland made one last stand with a 6-1 run, capped by four service points by Taverne to grab a 22-21 advantage.
Not wilting under the pressure, the Warriors showed championship mettle and closed out the match with four straight points. After getting a side out, Waltz served out the match with three straight points. Two of those, including match point came as LeBlanc and the Warriors found Baker, who put away kills to finish off the match.
“I thought whenever (Westmoreland) got close we were able to remain calm, set up the ball and our big hitters were able to put it away,” LeBlanc said.
Having LeBlanc in the middle of the court is what Curtis believes makes everything go for the Warriors.
“Emily is the true leader of this team,” Morrisville-Eaton head coach Wil Curtis said about his senior setter. “She runs downs balls and sets up everything for us.”
Westmoreland finishes off its regular season with a league game Friday at Owen D. Young.
“We definitely didn’t play our best and it was a tough loss,” Metz said. “I hope that we can pull it together tomorrow (practice) and we can come back with a win over Owen D. Young. And then it’s on to sectionals … which is a whole new ball game.”
Golden felt the sting of the loss, but also hasn’t lost sight of what her team has accomplished this season, and what still lies ahead.
“We wanted the league title really badly,” Golden said. “But we came out of it with a great record and we’ll make it up in sectionals. Especially when we get (Rubino) back … we want it and we’ll work hard to try to get it.”
Curtis credited his team carrying out the game plan as a huge reason the Warriors were able to come away with the huge win.
“Our game plan was to have our big middle blocker (Chandler) shut down their middle … and we executed it well,” Curtis said. “Our game plan won it for us. This is great to win our league. Especially with only two seniors, it took a lot of effort and grit. It was a collaborative effort. We had a very aggressive schedule with tough teams and it gave us confidence and gave our players experience.”
Morrisville-Eaton 3, Westmoreland 0
Game scores: 25-23; 25-19; 25-22.
Morrisville-Eaton (11-1, 14-3): Emily LeBlanc 34 assists, 3 digs; Emma Baker 12 kills, 12 digs; Kendra Walts 11 kills, 12 digs; Kim Chandler 10 kills, 4 blocks; Kamryn Roher 8 digs, 4 assists.
Westmoreland (9-2, 16-2): Brooke Taverne 11 digs, 5 kills, 2 aces; Ally Golden 6 kills, 4 digs, 1 ace; Gabriella Ricci 6 digs, 6 assists, 2 kills; Jenna Pastorella 8 assists, 3 digs, 1 kill.