Winnisquam, Inter-Lakes volleyball advance to Division III championship

Monitor staff
Thursday, November 02, 2017

PLYMOUTH – The beat goes on for Division III’s top teams.

After watching No. 2 Winnisquam punch its ticket to the championship in the first of two semifinal matches at Plymouth Regional High School on Wednesday, top-seeded Inter-Lakes made sure the state title game wouldn’t happen without it.

The Lakers bounced back from a first-set loss to knock off No. 5 Newfound, 3-1, running their record to a perfect 18-0 and setting up a showdown with Winnisquam – which defeated No. 3 Campbell, 3-0 – for the Division III crown in a battle of the top seeds.

“I was a little disappointed that we were going to go through this whole tournament and not face a new opponent, but we knew that the road was through the two teams we beat and tonight was one and now we’re on to the next,” Inter-Lakes Coach Randy Mattson said.

The Lakers are in the finals for the first time since losing to Gilford in 2004. Meanwhile, Winnisquam returns to a familiar place. The Bears won it all in 2010 and 2012, and have been to the championship match five times in the last eight years.

“It says I have really good athletes,” Winnisquam Coach Mike Livernois said. “I could stand here and say, ‘It’s all me. It’s all me.’ But if you don’t have athletes, you don’t go anywhere so I’ve been really lucky over the last eight years.”

The championship will be a rematch of Winnisquam’s regular-season finale, when it lost to Inter-Lakes in four sets in Tilton.

“We knew if we were going to get to the finals, we would have to work as a team and that’s what we’ve been doing this whole season,” said Winnisquam sophomore Gabby Isabelle, who finished with a team-high 15 kills with six digs in the win over Campbell. “I’m so excited. I just hope that we can perform and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Winnisquam got the night started with a sweep over Campbell, but the match played out more like a five-set thriller.

The Bears won the first set easily, 25-15, but the final two required the championship pedigree that an experienced team like Winnisquam possesses.

Both the second and third sets saw Winnisquam and Campbell deadlocked at 21-all before Winnisquam finished off both games. In the second set, kills from Allison Foster and Isabelle gave the Bears a 23-21 lead, and Foster’s block for the final point gave Winnisquam a 25-22 win.

The third set played out in similar fashion. Winnisquam pulled ahead, 23-21, on a kill from Talia DeBlasie (27 assists, eight digs) and a Campbell hitting error before ending things on a kill from Isabelle that was deflected out of play.

“I was really pleased with our effort tonight,” Livernois said. “Even when we fell behind in the score, we never stopped playing, never panicked and never lost confidence. I really thought we played with a lot of poise and I think the fact that we played in the semifinals last year, it showed. They knew what to do.”

Inter-Lakes, meanwhile, didn’t show up with any of that postseason history or experience. The Lakers hadn’t lost all year and already beat Newfound twice during the regular season, but that didn’t stop a young team from dropping the opening set, 26-24.

“(Newfound) takes the first set and they take it like that, it’s a real emotional boost,” Mattson said. “So in between the first and second sets, I talked a little about how we were going to overcome that emotional charge that (Newfound) was going to get for winning that game.”

Whatever Mattson said to her team worked.

Inter-Lakes didn’t lose another set on the night despite Ashlee Dukette (team-high 14 kills) and Newfound’s best effort.

The Lakers blitzed Newfound in the second set, 25-14, and repeated the process again in the third, 25-17, behind Emma Wheeler (16 kills), Jordan Durand (12 kills) and Jessalyn Brown (37 assists).

“There were some moments when we pulled off when I didn’t think we should of,” said Newfound Coach Amy Fairbank after leading the team to its first semifinals appearance. “We didn’t hit nearly as much as we usually do. We had some service errors that we shouldn’t of had, but we gave them too many opportunities.”

Just like in the first, Newfound took the Lakers to the brink in the fourth set, but this time it couldn’t finish the job. Tied at 24-all, Inter-Lakes grabbed the lead on a kill from Hailey Hart before ending Newfound’s season, 26-24.

“A win is a win. That was very intense,” Mattson said. “Glad we were able to hold on, the girls did a good job. Kudos to Newfound, it was the best they played all year.”

Inter-Lakes and Winnisquam will play for the title at Plymouth State University on Friday at 7 p.m.

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, jmcaree@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)