[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”25″ display=”basic_slideshow”]EAST MARLBOROUGH – It is, admittedly, an abridged season. Plus, the opponent wasn’t at full strength. And the championship is unofficial due to the pandemic.
But none of it took away from the glee exhibited by the Unionville volleyball squad on Wednesday after it finally ended Bishop Shanahan’s stranglehold on Ches-Mont league supremacy.
“Shanahan is an excellent program and (head coach) Greg (Ashman) is a great coach, but our girls were ready for it, and they fought,” said Unionville head coach Stephanie Smith.
“It feels amazing,” added star senior outside hitter Sophie Brenner. “This is a goal we’ve been working on for a long time. So to achieve it together feels so good.”
In a battle of unbeatens, Unionville prevailed 3-1 by winning the final three sets 25-22, 25-19, 25-22. Now 8-0 overall, Unionville entered the contest fourth in the District 1 4A power rankings.
“We really needed to see a team the caliber of Shanahan to see how we would respond,” Smith pointed out. “It definitely gave us some things to work on.”
When asked how many years in a row his program had reined in the league, Ashman said: “It’s been a long time.
“I can’t really remember the last time we didn’t win (the Ches-Mont), but my memory is going.”
The Eagles (6-1) won the opener 25-22 to hand Unionville its first set loss of the season. Shanahan had to go without three players, including senior Brooke Burns, but when asked who was out and if it was COVID-19 related, Ashman said, “No comment.
“The match was what I thought it was going to be,” he added. “Unionville is the best team around. We knew that coming in.
“With what we lost from last year (to graduation), and we didn’t have three players today, we just wanted to compete — and I think we did that.”
Not surprisingly, the most competitive set was the fourth, with the Eagles trailing 2-1 and unwilling to go down without a fight. It developed into an epic battle, with a dozen ties. But at 23-23, Unionville’s Maddie Lowe delivered one of her 14 kills on the day, and then Brenner finished it off with her 19th kill of the match.
“I liked our ability to come back if we missed a point, so that we could prevent (Shanahan) from getting any big runs,” Smith said. “We knew they wanted to win that set as much as we did, and maybe more. We knew they were going to bring it.”
Junior hitters Coco Shultz and Maddie Rudolph paced the Eagles in kills, but Unionville’s Genna Weeber notched a key block on Shultz down the stretch of the final set.
“We really didn’t win it on offense,” Brenner said. “Coco Shultz is an amazing player, so we needed to make sure we picked her hits up as much as possible. Our defense was everything for us in that last set.”
There were seven ties in the opening set, but Shanahan pulled it out by winning four of the final five points, including late kills by Shultz and Bridgette Kelly.
“We were the underdog and we haven’t been that in many years,” Ashman said. “And we played like it.
“We came out loose and with energy.”
A big turning point came in the tail end of set number two, as Unionville staged a 9-1 run to win it. Lowe had two big kills, Weeber and Ashlyn Wiswall each added big blocks and Wiswall ended it with a dink.
“The first set definitely threw us off,” Brenner explained. “We aren’t used to losing sets, but once we saw what (Shanahan) was doing, and how they were winning points, we were able to adjust. Once we limited our errors, we got back on track and back into it.
“The finish (in the second set) was huge. We got the momentum at that point and carried it through the end of that and set and into the third set.”
In the third, Unionville raced to an 11-6 lead and never trailed. But with a slim 21-20 advantage, Unionville wrapped it up with a block by Emily Harper and kills from Jillian Murphy and Lowe.
“We are a well-rounded team,” Smith said. “And the ability to mix it up gives us a big advantage.
“(Setter) Ashlyn (Wiswall) is able to set whoever the heck she wants. It’s nice to see the way she mixes things up.”
Wiswall finished with 38 assists and Murphy chipped in with eight kills.
“But (Unionville) is going to run with how (Brenner) goes,” Ashman said. “Our goal was to keep her down to 12 kills or less and I’m sure she had more than that. We knew what she was going to do, we scouted them well – we just didn’t have the horses to do it (Wednesday).”
Shanahan entered the clash third in the District 1 4A power rankings. It would be no surprise if these two meet again in the postseason.
“Hopefully this is a preview of the District final,” Ashman said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” added Brenner, who surpassed 1,000 career kills last week and sits atop Unionville’s all-time list.