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Raiders clear path to Frontier finale

SPRINGFIELD — For the first time in 28 years, Athol High School will play for a volleyball championship.

The third-seeded Red Raiders traveled to Sabis International Charter School for the semifinals of the Western Massachusetts Division III Girls’ Volleyball Tournament Wednesday night and knocked off the Bulldogs in four sets, 25-18, 25-22, 20-25, 27-25.

Athol’s win sets up an all-area final against perennial power and top-seeded Frontier Regional School Saturday at 4 p.m at Holyoke Community College.

I’m so excited that my team has made it this far,” said the Raiders’ Tessa Neverett. “Hopefully we can win Saturday, to know that we’re the best.”

The Red Raiders came out strong and never trailed in the first set, bringing a pinpoint service game and excellent ball-control, leaving the Bulldogs looking overmatched and overwhelmed. By the time Annie MacLean (eight kills, 21 digs) delivered the winner, the Raiders were a visibly confident and excited team.

The second set didn’t start so well for Athol, as off the serve of senior captain Rebecca Godbout, Sabis was able to take an early 5-0 lead, but the Raiders scored the next seven points, and didn’t relinquish the lead from that point on.

The third set saw Athol dig into a deep early hole once again, but this time it couldn’t find its way out. Sabis took the set 25-20, but the Raiders could take solace that they scored 10 of the set’s last 13 points, regaining a bit of momentum and focus.

“The key is to stay focused and I think we lost some of that focus going into that third set.” said Neverett. “We have a tendency when we are starting to win to lose it, and I’m just glad that tonight we were able to get it back.”

The decisive fourth game was a barn-burner from the start, with the early scoring going back and forth, featuring several volleys that had the entire crowd on its feet. With the set tied at 11, things really got rocking with four ties and two lead changes on the way to a 25-25 stalemate.

Athol ended the match two serves later, when Lexi Hamlett tipped the winner in front of the Sabis defenders, avoiding a winner-take-all fifth set that the Raiders were glad not to play.

“They’re a very good team. It’s obvious: we were fortunate to make one more play than them tonight,” said head coach Bernie Merron, who is very much looking forward to the final. “This is one of my own personal goals. I knew that because we had so much talent, and that these girls worked so hard, that good things could happen.”

The Raiders will find out Saturday if there are more good things to come.

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