Churchill victory halts boys' volleyball's eight-game winning streak
APRIL 25, NELSON H. KOBREN MEMORIAL GYMNASIUM--
It is a word with many associations for Blair's varsity boys' volleyball team, a word that conjures up memories of last season's bitter third-round playoff loss and reminds the Blazers that they were not the only team in the county with an undefeated record coming into this game. And for the biggest home crowd of the season, it was a word that meant that Blair was about to play its toughest and most exciting game all season, a match-up between two county powerhouses that may well indicate the course of the post-season bid for the county title.
And an exciting game it was, as the Blazers and Bulldogs took the game to five matches, both sides playing a flexible and evenly-matched game filled with hard hits and deft pick-ups. Churchill took the first two matches 25-23 and 25-19, however, leaving the Blazers in a difficult hole; while Blair dug itself out admirably and evened out the game with a stunning 25-13 third match and a 25-23 victory in the fourth set, Churchill managed to eke out a 15-13 win in the last and deciding round of the night, giving the victory to the Bulldogs and dropping the Blazers' record to 8-1.
From the first serve onward, it was apparent that Churchill was a better-matched opponent than any of the other teams Blair has played all season. Rallies were longer and crisper, filled with slammed hits and hard blocks and breathtaking saves. Both teams had near-identical attacking power, and both used it well: Senior co-captain James Lee led the boys with five of the team's 11 first-match kills, while the Bulldogs took seven kills. However, Churchill played more consistently than the Blazers, missing only four hits to Blair's ten. And in a match decided by just two points, that extra margin of consistency was just enough to give the Bulldogs the victory.
The Blazers tightened up their hitting in the second match, dropping only five points due to offensive errors. Unfortunately, Blair's setting and communication seemed to slip just as their hitting was getting smoother, losing four points to set that were either called by the ref or failed to connect with any hitters and dropping two more to a case of "you got it"-ism. Though the Blazers attempted to make up for these lapses with seven kills, four of which were made by Lee, Churchill also stepped up with eight kills and only two missed serves to Blair's four. Once again, every point was crucial in a game this close, and the Blazers found themselves down 0-2 after Churchill slammed two consecutive kills to the Blair court, ending the match at 19-25.
Coach JJ Rathnam must have said something magical to the Blazers during the three minutes between the second and third match, however, for the Blair team that returned to the court after the starting buzzer was greatly improved from the team that had played the first two sets. Senior co-captain Paul Wong began the game by leading the Blazers on a nine-point run that included two aces, and Churchill seemed to fall apart as Blair continued to put points on the scoreboard. Lee and senior Randy Li each put away five kills, as many as the Bulldogs did during the entire match, and the Blazers missed only two hits to Churchill's six. A few Churchill mental errors, including several easy balls that fell between players and the setter failing to connect with a hitter, sealed the match for the Blazers, giving Blair fresh hope that all was not yet lost.
The fourth match was not as nearly as easy for the Blazers as the third, however, as both teams returned to the high level of playing that they had demonstrated in the first two sets. With neither team able to keep the serve for more than a few points and both pounding away at the ball, the fourth match became a match not so much about offensive strengths, but the lack of offensive errors. The Blazers scored nine kills and three aces to the Bulldogs' 11 and two, respectively, but Blair missed only five hits and two serves compared to Churchill's eight failed hits and three netted/out serves. Add in a few miscellaneous carries and solid blocks, and Blair emerged from the fray with just enough of a margin to take the match, putting the score at 2-2 and necessitating a fifth, tiebreaking round.
The fifth match was reminiscent of Blair's last encounter with Churchill, which also ran into five sets and ultimately finished in a Bulldog victory. Churchill started up 3-1 after a kill and two consecutive Blair missed hits, and the Blazers fought back with an ace and kill of its own. The two teams stayed within two points of each other for much of the match, but Churchill's nine kills, as opposed to Blair's seven, gave them a slight edge that even a delayed out-of-rotation call and a dropped free ball could not erase. With the score at 14-12 in Churchill's favor after a time-out, Li killed a ball deep within Bulldog territory and nearly evened out the score -- but Churchill responded with a kill of its own, narrowly taking the victory.
Despite this regular-season loss to the Bulldogs, Lee and senior Jansen Sheng agree says that Blair will still be able to give Churchill another run for their money if the two teams meet again come playoffs. "Today's game was really close, but we were missing one of our middle hitters," Sheng said, explaining that senior Peter Bullen was out with an ankle injury. "If we played them again in playoffs or the championships with our full team we should be able to beat them."
"In terms of playoffs," Wong added, "We know what we'll face and what to expect next time. We just need to get the drive and take the lead?and win!"
The Blazers' next game will occur at Northwood at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27.
Kristina Yang. Kristina Yang is 1/10 of the Blair girls' volleyball team. When not on the court, she most likely to be running away from Magnet math homework, trying to pay off her three speeding/redlight tickets, or feeding her bubble tea addiction. She would also like to ... More »