Heartbreak Season: Belmont Volleyball’s Tournament Ends Early As Lincoln-Sudbury Upsets Marauders In Thriller

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.

Watch the play (at 1:20) here.

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.”

Four For Four: Belmont High Girls’ Rugby Defeats Lincoln-Sudbury, 34-0, For Fourth Straight Div. 1 State Crown

Photo: Belmont High School Senior Capt. Evie Hamer holds aloft the MIAA state championship trophy after Belmont defeated Lincoln-Sudbury, 34-0, to win its fourth consecutive Division 1 rugby state title

After a first-half where it was forced to rely on its underrated defense by a gutsy Lincoln-Sudbury Regional team, Belmont High School Girls’ Rugby flipped the switch on its dominating attack scoring five tries in the second half as the Marauders defeated the Warriors, 34-0, to take home the program’s fourth consecutive MIAA Division 1 state championship before a near full house at Curry College. Saturday, June 18.

“Man, every time it’s really hard,” said Kate McCabe, Belmont’s head coach since the program began in 2015. Belmont has won each of the four Division 1 tournaments contested since the MIAA sanctioned the sport in 2017. (The 2020 season was cancelled due to Covid while the girls’ played Rugby 7s in a non-title post-season.)

Having taken on Lincoln-Sudbury for the third straight title game, McCabe said every meeting with the Warriors “is a battle and whatever the first game of the season [a Belmont win, 39-26, in April] is doesn’t guarantee what the last game of the season is.”

The match was a tale of two halves, with second-seed Lincoln-Sudbury (5-3) playing a possession game from the kickoff, holding onto the ball for nine of the first 10 minutes while putting Belmont (7-0) under pressure by employing a wide-open game from the back. L-S came close to scoring midway through the half when the Warriors appeared to have crossed the try line but lacked control of the ball.

“We weren’t expecting them to be coming this hard,” said Belmont’s Number 8 Val Detheux. “They’ve been more wide offense and I think we got surprised by that.”

That first half Belmont demonstrated its tackling ability which is the underrated part of its game. An example occurred with the Warriors driving five meters to try, standout tackling first by open-side flanker Alex Townsend then inside center Helen Feldhaus sent L-S ball carriers back 10 meters stalling the push.

“We had amazing tacking from our captain, [senior fly-back] Evie Hamer, who shouldn’t have had to make those many tackles. She was phenomenal,” said McCabe, who also gave kudos to all the backs for shutting down the tightly organized L-S attack out wide.

In the waning moments of the half, Belmont finally took advantage of a sustained possession finding room on its right side to come within a few meters of the try. Despite being knocked off the play earlier, Detheux reentered the pile of players and squirmed the ball over the line for the game’s first score with three minutes remaining. A missed conversion allowed Belmont to walk off the pitch with a precarious 5-0 lead.

The halftime break provided the opportunity for Belmont to regroup and reset its offensive.

“We were able to to kind of settle down, play our pattern, really work what we know and then some of that space finally opened up,” said McCabe, who pointed to Marauders forwards especially the two locks, Lulu Conroy and Giulia Vecchi, who ran up the gut of the Warrior line luring the L-S forwards into the middle of the field, allowing more space for Belmont’s backs to “strike out wide.”

The Marauders’ quickly brought the ball down to the Warrior end and five minutes into the half, sophomore left wing Mia Taylor took the ball from 20 meters out, broke two tackles and dove over the try line to up the score to 10-0. Just a few minutes later, Taylor once again sprinted down the left side to found clear sailing to give Belmont a 15-0 advantage at the 46 minute mark.

Belmont’s third try of the half was its most creative as right wing Allie Caputo gathered a Belmont downfield kick at midfield and laid off to a streaking Detheux who outsprinted the L-S back line for her second and the rout was on at the 55 minute mark. In a moment of rugby camaraderie, Detheux was congratulated with a hug by a L-S player after the touch.

“I play a lot of outside club rugby and I know half of these players,” said Detheux. “Yeah, we’re friends.”

Belmont finished the scoring with 40 meter treks from Caputo – who paid for the try by being knocked off the pitch with a NFL tackle – and de la Fuente who sprinted clear then lunged for the try line after getting caught five meters out.

With the final whistle, the Marauders completed its perfect season and is taking home another state championship trophy to the newly-built high school which has yet to have a display case installed.

“We’ll find a closet to put them in for now,” said Adam Pritchard, Belmont’s acting Athletic Director.

“I’m so honored to be able to play with all these amazing seniors in their last year or as they go off to play rugby in college,” said Taylor. “I’m just so honored to be chosen to wear this jersey and be a part of this champion team.”

In the year marking a half century since the enactment of Title IX, McCabe sees her sport as a vehicle for equality in sports.

“I just want so many girls in Massachusetts to have the experience of stepping on the field and knowing that they are playing a full-out contact sport where they are dominating, where they are strong, where they’re recognized for their athleticism that they’re putting on the field,” said McCabe.

“In a world that’s seeking egalitarianism, that’s what rugby is. It’s fun and I want more teams out here.”

Belmont Girls’ Rugby Starts Defense Of State Titles With 39-26 Victory Over Top Rival Lincoln-Sudbury

Photo: Off to the races: Belmont High’s Val Detheux scoring her second try from across the midway line in three minutes as the Marauders’ defeated Lincoln-Sudbury, 39-26, to open the 2022 rugby season.

Playing its first competitive match in nearly three years, the Belmont High Girls’ Rugby XV squared off with its chief challenger, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High, in the 2022 season opener as the Marauders’ began its defense of its three consecutive MIAA state championships from 2017-2019.

It’s always a red letter date when long-time rivals meet, especially early on in the season as it gives a good indication where both teams are heading. And the Marauders’ offense clicked from the start, putting L-S – which the Marauders defeated in the previous two state finals – into a 22-0 half time hole leading to the 39-26 victory at Harris Field.

First half scrum, Belmont High vs. Lincoln-Sudbury in 2022 season opener.

“There are a lot of nerves coming into this game,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Kate McCabe after the match. “It’s hard to start with Lincoln-Sudbury and, man, they do not disappoint. It was a really hard hitting game and they seemingly got better and better as the game went on.”

When Belmont processed the ball, it demonstrated the duel threat of scoring off of grinding out multi-phased drives as with its first two scores – by sophomore left wing Lucy Kabrhel and senior scrumhalf ”Jef” Endo-Ferguson – or slash the defense with standout solo runs as Belmont crossed the goal line three times from 70-plus meters out. The highlight of the long distance ventures strikes from junior “eight” Val Detheux whose second of her two tries (which came three minutes apart) saw her slip through the middle of the L-S squad and outpace the back line to the try line.

“It’s really important to step sideways because when someone is ready to tackle you, they are low to the ground so they won’t be able to reach as far., So if you step, it’s easy to pass them,” she said.

Belmont scrumhalf ”Jef” Endo-Ferguson takes down Lincoln-Sudbury’s 9.

Detheux said playing the important Eight position with a full complement of 15 players – last year, the team played Rugby Sevens – was “scary” and ”it all happened very quickly.” But getting help from Endo-Ferguson and senior Flyhalf Evie Hamer ”was important that we work as a team, talking and sending the ball to the right places.”

Belmont showed how dangerous its offensive can be when receiving the ball with less than 90 seconds remaining in the first half 80 meters from the goal line. Rather than run out the clock, the Marauders’ team and individual speed, some impressive passes as well as defending the ball during the ruck paid dividends resulting in a four try half.

McCabe pointed to the play of senior fullback Cecilia de la Fuente who said the pace on her striker line runs ”were phenomenal” and a series of solo shoulder tackles by senior inside center Helen Feldhaus “were what we needed at that moment because Lincoln ever was coming was speed.”

Second half action between Belmont High and Lincoln Sudbury girls’ rugby season opener.

With the exception of Detheux, the team’s eight forwards are made up of seniors whose experience will be key to a return to a finals. It was the unit responsible for repelling L-S twice inside the 10 meter line early in the match and stealing a number of rucks especially in the first half.

But it’s not all the dirty work inside the scrum or taking opponent runners so the ground for the front. Senior hook Narine Mahserejian contributed to the offense going off on several runs including a notable 30-meter dash that had the sideline screaming.

“I do like to take the ball and crash it into them. I like to run through the defense and try to get a couple of meters in,’ said Mahserejian.

The one deficiency in Belmont’s game was when L-S exploited some less than stellar tackling in the final 15 minutes of the match, a detail McCabe did not overlook.

“Honestly, we’ve been working for four weeks and they put a lot of those pieces together on the field,” said McCabe. “And it was beautiful to see and people stepped up in a big way in the attack. I know that this is just the foundation and that we have a full season to build on it.

“So it’s a great place to start but there’s some work to be done, for sure.”

Belmont High’s left wing Lucy Kabrhel scores the first try of the girls’ rugby season vs. Lincoln-Sudbury.