Homecourt Heartbreak

by Beacon Staff • November 10, 2011

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divstrongChris Eyer, Beacon Staff/strong/div

divSenior Jessica Drumright crumpled to the floor of the Bobbi Brown and Stephen Plofker Gym as her teammates ran to her side and the Rivier College spectators stormed the court in triumph. The Emerson College women’s volleyball team had lost the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship by a hair.The hard-fought contest, which saw the Raiders win 3-2, was a testament to just how quickly the tides of a volleyball game can turn.“This whole game was about momentum. Both teams were equally matched,” said outside hitter Kelsey Scanlon.

The two schools have battled for dominance of the GNAC in recent years. Last year, the Raiders defeated the Lions in the semifinal game, and this season Emerson handed Rivier its only conference loss. The Raiders won back-to-back championships in 2007 and 2008. The Lions took the title in 2009.

The atmosphere grew tense when the Rivier boosters arrived on a fan bus, sporting school t-shirts and posters. As the match got under way, the away fans drowned out Emerson’s student section.

The Lions played strong close to the net, but the lengthy exchanges favored the Raiders, who took an early lead. Rivier’s Kenna Finlayson, who recorded her 1,000th career kill earlier this season, hit ball after ball down on Emerson’s front row to energize the rowdy Raider supporters.

Emerson head coach Benjamin Read called a timeout with Rivier up 23-18, which set the stage for a devious play by Drumright. Katie Bailey set the ball high and Alexa Krakowiak went up to draw the block, leaving Drumright open to smash the ball cross-court. This was not enough, however, and Rivier took the first set 25-20.

During the brief intermission, the cavalry arrived for the Lions in the form of three students coated in purple paint. The trio incited the Emerson faithful to raucous chants and lead the way in harassing Rivier during service.

“The Emerson fans came in the second, third, and fourth games in a big way,” said senior captain Bailey “They were incredibly helpful.”

The chorus cheers of “side-out, side-out” may have directly affected the Raiders. While Emerson began the second set with three straight aces from Bailey, the visitors committed service error after service error.

Altogether, Rivier squandered 16 points off of failed serves. But the Raiders came right back. The team led continually successful attacks with Finlayson, who recorded eight of her game-high 20 kills in the second set. She was named the GNAC tournament MVP.

Emerson’s defense kept the game even, with Drumright and libero Jamie Morgan executing acrobatic digs to thwart the Raider attack.

“We kept a lot of balls in play until they made the mistakes,” said Read.

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divThe score went to 25-25 with Nicole Boucher serving. “Side-out, side-out,” rang in the air, and a side-out Boucher gave, hitting the ball out of the court and into her own fans. Then, Scanlon struck a hard ball at the Raiders, who misplayed it, giving the Lions the set 27-25./div

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The rejuvenated Emerson side jumped all over the Raiders in the third set, scoring five unanswered points to start, forcing head coach Craig Kolek to call a timeout. Returning from the timeout, the Lions used their wit to maintain dominance. Drumright and Rice sent balls softly over the net away from the Raider block and went up 10-3./div

divA second timeout hardly stopped the bleeding. Attacks went straight into the pin, serves sailed over everything, sloppy passes that stunted the offense – the play of the Raiders had changed drastically from the well-oiled machine of the first two games. The Rivier fans went silent as they watched Finlayson’s attacks blocked at the net twice by freshmen Alex Lynn and Rice. Finlayson had 11 attacking errors and seven service errors./div

div“We got really hot and we broke Finlayson in that game” said Bailey. “We did a good job of putting up a solid block and playing defense.”/div

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Down 2-1, it was Rivier’s turn to mount a comeback. The fourth set was another back-and-forth exchange. A surgical strike by Bailey and a kill by Scanlon brought the score to 14-12. In an expletive-laced chant, Emerson fans preemptively declared the set “over.”/div

divMeanwhile the Rivier boosters were drowned out by strains of “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire played over the loudspeaker during a timeout./div

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But it was not over: Sloppy play allowed the Raiders to tie the score up at 18 all. A decisive turn came when a Rice block fell out of bounds, but the judges decided after much debate, that it touched an opposing player, which put Emerson up 21-20./div

divBut the Raiders steeled themselves. A Boucher ace and a shanked bump by Rice put Rivier ahead 24-21. The Raiders would win on a kill by Nicole Peacock./div

divThe battle for the championship began anew in the final, fifth set./div

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With every point being life or death, the Raiders scored first. Yet even with the game on the line, the Raiders were unable to string together any meaningful service.But Emerson could not capitalize on this, and fell into a 10-6 hole before calling a timeout. A Drumright kill put the Lions within two as both sets of fans rose to their feet./div

divOn the next point, Scanlon dug a hit from the Raider attack and Emerson kept the ball alive with smart, conservative hits until Peacock bungled a ball. Drumright then spiked a ball straight into the corner of the court to even it up./div

divIt looked as if Emerson had one more comeback left, but a service error by Bailey set the stage for a brutal kill by Finlayson. The match ended on a Drumright attacking error, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise stellar game from the senior./div

divA deflated Emerson crowd cheered the girls’ effort as Raider fans celebrated at center court. Having left everything on the floor, Scanlon and her teammates were visibly upset./div

div“It’s heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve ever been this upset over anything, not even an ex-boyfriend. I’ve been giving it all since day one, 11 years ago,” said a tearful Scanlon, referring to when she first began playing volleyball in middle school. “Every day up until this point has been for this game. Having spent all this time and effort, it rips out your heart.”/div

divScanlon, who is studying in Emerson’s Washington D.C. satellite program next year, is one of six girls who played their last game that day. Krakowiak, Drumright, Bailey, Megan Kaplon, and Madeleine Breeland will all be graduating./div

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Read said that regardless of the outcome, he was pleased with his team./div

div“We did what we needed to do for the most part, we just didn’t come out on top,” said Read. “I know the team is disappointed,since we had high hopes. I know we could have won it, but in no way am I disappointed with the team. Even in the fifth set, when we were down by a lot of points, they didn’t give up. I’m really proud of this group.”/div