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Coe-Brown volleyball team throws a scare into St. Thomas before losing in semifinals

DERRY – Going into last night’s Division II volleyball semifinal, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect a sweep of No. 5 Coe-Brown (13-6) by undefeated and top-ranked St. Thomas (17-0), which had yet to drop a single game, let alone a match, all season.

St. Thomas is still moving on to the final with a 3-2 (26-28, 25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 15-3) victory, but the match was no cakewalk for the Saints, who were pushed to a fifth game after a valiant effort by the Bears.

“Our mindset coming in was to give them a run for their money,” Coe-Brown Coach Rick Veno said. “Our goal was to take that first game off them and take them out of their rhythm.”

That strategy proved to be key in the match, as the Saints ended up in uncharted territory by dropping the opening game. The initial game was a marathon of its own, with the Bears fighting back from 22-16 and 24-22 deficits and showing a determination to get back into it. Liz Peabody and Emma Easler led the comeback, with the two combining for nine of the 12 final points, while the majority of the team fought hard to keep plays alive with numerous digs. Abigail Ahern came up with a key block to clinch the game, 28-26, and kick St. Thomas out of its comfort zone.

“We came back strong and had girls diving all over the floor,” Veno said. “It was a full team effort.”

The Bears expended a huge amount of energy in the comeback, and it showed in the second and third games as the Saints pulled back into the match. From a narrow 10-8 lead in the second game, St. Thomas won six of the next eight points to go ahead 16-10. The Bears narrowed the deficit to three at 19-16, but the Saints quashed a second comeback with the help of a couple aces and won six of the last seven points to win 25-17.

The third game was a bit sloppy for both sides, but Coe-Brown hung tough down 14-13 before the Saints went on another run and at one point earned five points in a row to go ahead 22-15 behind a strong net presence from Emma Keane.

The Bears took back the initiative in the fourth game, pulling ahead after being down 11-10 with strong play by Ahern and Easler, in particular, to take a 17-13 lead. The Saints kept pace but couldn’t get any closer than 23-21, and Peabody provided a timely kill to take the match to five games.

“We were determined to go five and just refused to give up,” Veno said.

The rollercoaster ride ended in the fifth game, when the Saints got hot from the service line and scored 10 straight points to pull out the win in a game that was far more simple than the ones preceding it.

The loss won’t obscure some excellent, gritty performances from several Coe-Brown players. Peabody, the undisputed leader of the team, was an offensive threat throughout the match and had a team-high 21 kills. Libero Debbie Peabody was a symbol of the effort put forth by the whole squad, constantly hitting the floor to pull out digs (she finished with 22). Ahern (11 kills) and Easler (10 kills, seven blocks) were a key part of the attack, while Sadie Steffen (43 assists) was constantly involved and connected with Liz Peabody often. Megan Rouillard and Kate Tomaszewski also came up big during multiple key moments.

The Bears can hold their heads high after pushing St. Thomas as far as it’s been pushed all year. It was the first semifinal for the Coe-Brown program since 2004, and the relatively youthful team played confidently and showed poise when the going got tough.

“I had seven sophomores out there,” said Veno, comparing his squad to a Saints team heavy on upperclassmen. “I’m looking forward to seeing us get better next year.”

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