(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)
Senior outside hitters Lorenza Etienne and Nicole Genard combined for 29 kills, 18 digs and three aces for the Highlanders, who Wednesday afternoon at the Field House overcame losses in two of their first three games to win their match against Matignon High School (Cambridge) in five games.
The formula for the Highlanders was simple: when they put their serves in play and over the net, they won games. When they served out of bounds or into the net (27 times in five games), they lost games.
Down 10-9, the Warriors went on a 7-0 run midway through the first game, seizing the lead and never relinquishing it. The Highlanders almost clawed their way back thanks in no small part to Genard’s spikes and serves, but two late-game serves out of bounds gave the Warriors a 25-21 win.
“Game 1, we missed 10 serves alone,” coach Steven Walker said. “If you ever do that, you’re never going to win.”
The Highlanders responded with a dominating second game, however, winning 25-14 in a game whose pace they controlled early. After a Matignon serve out of bounds gave the Highlanders possession and a 3-3 tie, the Highlanders then scored six of the next seven points.
Genard is a very smart hitter, usually knowing when to swing hard and when to ease off the throttle and instead locate the hit. She showed both hitting styles early in Game 2, hitting two kills but also tipping one softly over the net. Genard’s subsequent two aces gave the Highlanders a 13-8 lead, and Etienne took over following a Matignon timeout, scoring five of Somerville’s next six points.
In beating the Warriors 25-14 in Game 2, the Highlanders committed just four service errors, forcing the Warriors to execute their offense instead of giving away points.
The Highlanders did not lose Game 3 25-20 because of service errors, but rather because of flat serve-receiving that resulted in uncontrolled frontcourt hitting. Too often the Highlanders looked unprepared for Matignon’s consistently strong serving, especially by seniors Gabriella Farrell and Lauren Doneski. Since the passes to setter Brittany Cassidy weren’t crisp, Cassidy’s sets to Etienne and Genard were not consistent, leading to constant body adjustments by the outside hitters and spikes that soared out of bounds.
Once again the Highlanders rallied, however, playing with far greater energy in Game 4. Three unreturned serves by Cassidy helped put the Highlanders up 9-4, and a 5-0 run led by setter Melissa McGovern gave the Highlanders a 17-10 lead.
A series of miscues by the Highlanders let the Warriors cut the lead to just one, but two more kills by Etienne late in the game helped the Highlanders lock down the 25-21 win and tie the match.
“They realized after Game 3 that if they don’t have the energy, they’re not going to play well,” Walker said. “They can’t just go through the motions.”
The fifth game in volleyball is a race to 15, and this time the Warriors made all the mistakes. After a Matignon overpass gave Genard a free swing with the game tied 4-4, another overpass let Genard break a 6-6 tie and start an 8-1 run from which the Warriors never recovered.
“We just swung aggressively,” Walker said. “We didn’t give them any easy balls over, we didn’t give any free balls. We just kept swinging and swinging, and that came from our back row making a lot of great passes.”
A serve out of bounds gave Somerville the 15-8 game win and the match.
“It was a great victory for us,” Walker said. “We had a lot of Game 5’s last year, but we didn’t do too well in them. … We’ve talked about it a lot this year. One of our main focuses is just really being mentally tough, and taking it play by play. That’s what it takes to be successful in Game 5.”
With the win, the Highlanders improved to 2-1 this season. The JV beat Matignon’s JV in three games, thanks in large part to 11 aces from freshman Andrea Rao and eight points each from sophomores Hebron Abadi and Leslie Duarte. It was the JV’s first win of the season.