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Winnisquam volleyball team earns chance to defend Division III title

PLYMOUTH – There’s just something about November for the Winnisquam volleyball team.

The Bears are Division III final-bound – again – after breezing to a 3-0 victory over Sunapee last night at Plymouth State University. It’s the third trip to the title match in four years for the defending champions, who will take on top-seeded and undefeated Nute in a rematch of last year’s game.

“Having as much experience as we do, they understand what’s at stake,” said Coach Mike Livernois, whose team improved to 17-2 by claiming 25-16, 25-20 and 25-16 wins. “We got the jitters out of the way, so I think that that’s a real key to coming up again (tomorrow), is knowing that you’ve been here before, you know what to do, you know what to expect. You just go up and you do your best.”

Winnisquam, the third seed, had to get past the second-seeded Lakers (17-2) to make it to the final, but even upsets are old hat to the Bears by now. Yesterday’s result was the fourth straight time they’ve won when facing a higher seed, dating back to last year’s run as a sixth seed, and it highlighted what was a major advantage for Winnisquam over Sunapee. It was the Lakers’ first time on the big stage and in front of the loud crowds that flock to Plymouth State.

As for the Bears? They practically have the pre-game choreographed, from the music they play during warm-ups to a knowledge to dress before the trip up to avoid having to change in the fieldhouse’s sweltering locker rooms.

“I think it was a little business as usual,” Livernois said. “I think the experience thing is nice because they know what to expect.”

Coming armed with an attack plan is nice too, and the Bears knew they could win the battle at the net and at the service line. The Lakers proved adept defensively, covering the floor and returning most of the Winnisquam attempts, but they couldn’t match up with the Bears’ size and strength up close. Hannah Chapin (nine kills, five digs, two blocks), Bailey Long (seven kills), Mo Raymond (five kills, 10 digs) and Carissa Archibald (four kills, three blocks) led the offense for Winnisquam, while Chapin was also a star at the service line with five aces.

“We were prepared for a scrappy team, and I figured our advantage would be the offense,” said Livernois, whose team also got 24 assists from Erica Doubleday, two aces from Raymond and two aces and 10 digs from Dallis Austin. “We had more offense than they did. … We just kind of wore them down with our offense, and were able to pull that match out.”

That advantage helped the Bears go on an 8-2 run early in the first game, en route to the easy 25-16 win. The Lakers provided a stiffer challenge in the second game, however. Coach Thomas Reney called a timeout with his team down 14-7 and Sunapee scored nine of the next 11 points, benefitting from unforced Winnisquam errors to tie the game at 16.

Livernois didn’t match Reney’s timeout, preferring to let his team work its way through its slump. It did, taking a 22-20 lead and scoring the final three points to seal the 25-20 win. In the final game, the Bears wrapped up the match when a 6-0 run turned a 13-10 lead into a 19-10 rout and left the Lakers too far back to rally.

“We just need to get one point at a time, and get us back on top,” Chapin said of the team’s regaining control in the second game. “We all just pick each other up. … Once we’re back on top, that’s where we’re most comfortable.”

Even when the score was tied, Livernois said panic never set in.

“I was pleased with how they handled the nerves and came back at the end of Game 2, which was a little closer than what I wanted to see. But never once did I see that feeling of ‘Uh oh, uh oh,’ ” he said. “Yeah, they made a comeback, but okay, collect yourself, take a deep breath and go out and do what you need to do.”

Soon after the match ended, the Bears had their opponent. It’ll be Nute, the team that Winnisquam beat, 3-0, in last year’s final, but things have changed since then. That was a sixth seed beating a fifth seed. This year, the Rams are No. 1, and have lost just a single game all season.

So that means Winnisquam will take the court as the lower seed. Given their history, the Bears will hardly be shaking.

“I think this time of year, we’re all really relaxed. It’s still a little nerve-wracking, but we’ve all been here before,” Chapin said. “We kind of stay calm in situations like this. It’s very helpful to have already been here.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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