Photo: Belmont senior Isabella Radojevic (number 1) led the way for the Marauders vs LB
The playoffs are “heartbreak season in the sporting world … when pain is felt in its most acute form,” David Coggins wrote this month in his “The Contender” website on Substack.
Heartbreak is the only word to describe what occurred in the Wenner Field House Friday evening, Nov. 3. Heartbreak for the players and fans of the Belmont High Girls’ Volleyball, whose season included a historic first Middlesex League Liberty title and a formidable record of 17 wins from 19 matches.
But all the hard work and records are now at the wayside as the 9th-seeded Marauders would take the match vs. Lincoln-Sudbury to five sets but end up losing to the Warriors, 16-14, in the fifth (20-25, 25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 14-16). And the pain was made only more inflicted after a controversial call at the net at 14 in the fifth set, allowing L-S’s senior Emma Agne to serve an uncontested ace to end what was one of the most thrilling matches either team played this year.
While the Warriors were jumping, ecstatic that they would be facing eight-seed Bishop Feehan, the Belmont team (17-3) was stunned into silence as the players slowly walked back to where their backpacks were located. Only when they stopped to pack up their gear for the final time did the emotions – mostly in tears, some in righteous indignation for the penultimate decision – come out in all its excruciating simplicity.
Teammates held their friends – so they didn’t have to cry alone – coaches, dealing with their disappointment, offered a hand, a thoughtful few words, and parents waiting across the field house with open arms.
Belmont Head Coach Jen Couture was expecting to be tested Friday as it was the first round of the playoffs, and the Marauders were facing one of last year’s Division 1 state finalists, losing to Newton North in the championship match.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Lincoln Sudbury,” she said after the game. “When you enter a tournament game, every team will be really good. They were incredible blockers, probably the best we’ve seen all year,” said Colture of the team coached by Greg Falcone.
“It was still a good game for us. Just not every little thing came out in the way we wanted to,” she said.
L-S’s two-player blocking scheme was immediately effective at the start, especially on Belmont’s senior standout Isabella Radojevic (17 kills, three aces, 15 received serves, four digs), as L-S built a quick 1-5 lead. Every time Belmont would tie or come within a point in the first set, the Warriors would counter with a run of their own, which was the pattern of play all match long.
Belmont’s first lead, 14-13, via a combined block from Sophia Qin and Eva Grant, was short-lived as L-S took it up to 17-19 with the first look of the Warriors’ exciting junior Gabby Pierre (14 kills), who when on the floor with Radojevic produced sparks on the front line.
While Belmont scrapped back to 19-21, the Warriors would take the set on a 4-1 run.
The second set was a nail-biter as Belmont again fell behind 5-10 before sophomore Wuyee Ke concluded a 5-0 run with an ace to pair up the second set at 10. The teams would be tied at 22 when first-year Yekaterina Polina stoned a Warrior kill attempt by herself before Ke made a one-arm dig from the floor, which Radojevic sent cross-court for the winner that sealed the set two serves later at 25-23.
The third set was a carbon copy of the previous as no team held a lead of more than three points. The presence of senior Sonya Ivkovic (11 kills, one solo, one combined block) at the net was the difference maker, whose hitting and blocking allowed Belmont to surge ahead 23-18. But The Warriors would make it tight at 24-22 on a down-the-line smash from junior Joyce Li. But Belmont hung on for the 25-22 win and two sets to one lead.
The fourth set saw Belmont race out in front 8-4, only for L-S to make a 5-1 service run. In a set that saw several long rallies, Belmont would pull ahead 17-13 through sophomore Ella Mizuta, only for Li to give a 17-18 lead with two critical points via combination blocks from Pierre and senior Abby Venis. It did appear a two-point push that gave Belmont a 21-19 was harbingers to come, but Pierre – who was outjumping very one by more than 6 inches if not a foot – who took the set by the throat to tie the sets at two.
It came down to a fifth set sprint to 15, in which L-S took a quick 2-5 lead, but Ivkovic was a presence in the middle and helped push Belmont into the lead at 7-6. While the Warriors would come back to move ahead 8-10, Belmont’s 13 in Ivkovic didn’t show any nervousness as she made a pair of kills, including one off a block that tied the score at 12-12. With Radojevic and Pierre on the court, it came down to which of the six players on each team would make a play. With L-S serving for the match at 13-14, Radojevic pulled out a strong shot that L-S miscued to tie at 14.
Now, the controversy. By winning the point at 14-14, either team would be serving to win the match. Agne smashed a great assist that Hashioka dug off the floor. The save barely cleared the net directly in the path of Venis, who won the point with a kill. Yet it was apparent that the net moved as Venis hit the ball. Did Venis’s hand hit the net, which would have given the point to Belmont, or did the net move by the ball? For a second or two, both teams’ attention was directed to the net judge, who deemed the ball caused the net’s movement, to the dismay of the Marauders in the field house.
After the match, Colture said Lincoln-Sudbury held a surprising advantage during the match, being an overwhelming underdog.
“There is that pressure as the higher seed,” said Colture. “There’s an expectation you have, and the other team has no expectations. They had nothing to lose, and we played like we did have something to lose, and I think that is what happened.”
Thoughts now turn to the future as Belmont loses several key players to graduation.
“We still have a young team, and they’re getting that experience, and there’s so many sophomores out there. There are a lot of young players who like to play at this level. It’s their first time playing in a state tournament game, and there was a little bit of nerves there many of them will be returning next year.
Yet right now, the heartbreak is knowing that the companionship of teammates made on the court during games, in the locker room, and on long bus rides during evening rush hours has come to an end.
“What’s harder than losing is that your time together is done sooner than you thought,” she said.
“Personally, it’s not the pride of needing to get further in the tournament that hurts. Winning earns you more time together. What’s harder than losing is that your time together is done sooner than you thought,” Colture said. “And I think that’s the hardest part for everybody, especially the seniors.”