Mahar roars back to shock Lee, 3-2

ORANGE — Down 7-0 in the pivotal fifth-set, the chances of Mahar Regional School reaching the finals of the WMass Division III Girls’ Volleyball championship did not look good.

The Senators rallied to tie the score at 10 and then completed the comeback by taking five of the next eight points to hand Lee High School its first loss of the season 25-23, 17-25, 25-22, 8-25, 15-13, in semi-final play at the Grzesik-Bixby Gymnasium Thursday evening.

“That was the most nerve-racking last set I’ve ever had as a coach,” said Mahar coach Sarah Woodward, “We did not play well tonight but the team played well enough when we were behind and, luckily, we came out with the victory,” Woodward said as her team celebrated behind her.

Lee jumped out to the 7-0 lead with Lauren Richardson serving to start the decisive set. Richardson registered one ace in the seven-point streak, and got help in the form of two kills from Courtney Picard, and single kills from Katie Morin and Vanessa Castillo.

Allie Barnes finally got the Senators on the board in the fifth set when she registered a kill and then took over serve, winning three points to cut the deficit to 7-4. The two teams traded points to get Lee to a 10-6 lead, but Sabrina Silva recorded a kill and took over serving herself, scoring three more points to tie the score at 10-10. Later, with the score tied 13-13, Katherine Donelan scorched an ace to give the Senators a 14-13 lead, and the home team punched its ticket on the next point when Jessica Lloyd picked up a rare block.

“That was the first block of her career there,” Woodward said. “We can come back and win when we want to.”

The second-seeded Senators (15-5) came out sharp and controlled much of the first set. After the third-seeded Wildcats (20-1) rallied to tie the score at 22-22, Silva took over for the Senators. The senior belted back-to-back kills and Lee pushed a service into the net giving Mahar the first-set victory. Lee came out and battled in the second set, showing why they had been previously unbeaten. With the score at 16-14, the Wildcats ripped off seven straight points to take the second set 25-17, tying the match at one apiece overall.

Lee brought the momentum from the second set into the third, when the Wildcats jumped out to an 18-12 lead midway through the third set. It did not look good for the Senators, who were outplayed for most of the third set. However, down six points with Mahar gaining serve, Donelan served up four straight points to pull Mahar within two at 18-16. After Lee gained a point on a service error, Silva registered five straight kills to pull Mahar ahead for good. The Senators completed the comeback and took the third set, 25-22.

Mahar could not take the momentum from the third set into the fourth, as Lee was able to jump out to an 11-0 lead before the Senators could register their first point. The Wildcats scored 12 of the next 14 points to take the fourth set by a score of 25-8 and force the deciding fifth game.

Silva finished with 22 kills while Caitriona Cronin recorded 23 digs. Also playing well for Mahar was Sam Pierson, a senior who chipped in 19 assists, and senior captain Barnes, who came in with six kills.

Mahar will face off against the No. 1 seeded and perennial powerhouse Frontier Regional School Saturday at 4 p.m. at Holyoke Community College with the WMass volleyball title on the line.

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