BURLINGTON >> More than most sports, volleyball is a game of momentum, with psychological as well as physical twists fueling the push.
The twists can feed a run, or, in a match of heavyweights like Masuk and Lewis Mills, they can finally win the meet.
Friday, at Lewis Mills High School, the Panthers (9-4) won the match 3-1. Twists and turns were the glitter in a great show.
Mills, 4-6 with what Coach Damian Coggshall calls the hardest schedule in the state, roared out to a first-game win, 25-21; crested in the middle of Game 2, falling away 25-18; came back for a penultimate battle in Game 3, only to let it slip 26-24; then subsided in the final game, 25-16.
“It was a little too exciting,” laughed Masuk coach Megan Miller. “At a certain point in Game 2, our energy picked up. I think Lewis Mills’ energy at the beginning of the match woke us up. When we can make our passes, we start to go.”
Mills polished off 10-2 Wolcott Tech Monday, then lost to 12-3 Joel Barlow Thursday before facing the Panthers the next day.
For the Spartans, the problem is not so much a schedule with just one sub-.500 opponent as it is the schedule’s volume.
“When we have three games a week, there’s no time for practice,” said Mills senior Spencer Maloney.
“We get the scouting report, but we don’t really get a chance to prepare,” said senior setter Seth Ouellette.
“Practices help us focus,” said Alexander Daigle, another of the seniors on a veteran Mills squad.
Above all, practices might solve the roller coaster syndrome Coach Coggshall sees in the Spartan season so far.
“We’ve made a lot of improvement over last year (11-7) since the beginning of the season,” Coggshall said. “The problem is we don’t play at that level all the time. When things aren’t going for us, we tend to play passive. When one thing goes wrong, all of them do. We can’t put three games together. The question is ‘How do we get out of it?’”
With teams like Mills and Masuk soaring head-to-head at the net for power shots and blocks in every play, pondering that question is a little like a fighter pondering the same question in the middle of a boxing match.
Maybe a 3-0 loss to Barlow the night before injected start-up adrenaline for the Spartans in Game 1.
Masuk jumped to a 10-6 lead; Coggshall called time out; the Spartans found their mojo behind Austin Gilbert’s serves and a kill and a block by Tim Forella (9 kills, 8 blocks).
Mills climbed to a 13-10 lead after Gilbert’s second ace in the series.
Coach Miller’s turn to look for an adjustment for her Panthers.
This time, the Mills level stayed high. Dan Kryzanski (9 kills, 2 blocks) put away a kill after a great Spartan fake at the net; Daigle (11 kills, 3 blocks) was way up for a couple of huge slams; Forella was back strong at the end for a block and a final kill.
The momentum carried into Game 2 when Maloney (11 kills, 10 digs) introduced himself as a threat from the left end of the net. Unfolding more art, Kryzanski tipped a point over the Masuk blocks for a 10-7 lead, then checked back for a smash, 11-7.
Right then, the Panthers woke up.
Senior captain Jack O’Shaughnessy (15 kills, 3 blocks) completed a set fake play with a huge kill; Sam Wikman (17 kills, 6 digs, 1 block) got away with a kill, then dropped back for two soft tips to a spot.
Neil McCarter (14 kills, 6 digs), last year’s Panther libero-turned-power-hitter this year, muscled a pair of kills through Spartan blocks.
The second one built the Masuk lead to 21-14. Spartan Maloney made a great stand, with two kills and a block.
Nevertheless, this one was a goner, one game apiece.
Game 3, the rubber, had both teams playing at their peak. Win this one and the other team just might collapse.
Mills pulled the lead through the middle part of the game — huge kill by Daigle, 9-7; quick-kill off an Ouellette set for Forella, 11-8; quick-kill for Daigle, 16-13; Forella block, 20-16.
Then it went away.
Masuk setter Johnathan Williams back-set O’Shaughnessy for one kill; O’Shaughnessy came through with another and a block, 21-21; Mills made great digs, but O’Shaughnessy got the kill anyway at 23-23; at 24-24, Wikman had the telling kills, two in a row.
The Mills fight was gone. Masuk started the final game 9-0. The Spartans couldn’t get it back.
Masuk 3, Lewis Mills 1
(21-25; 25-18; 26-24; 25-16)
At Lewis Mills High School
Highlights: M—Sam Wikman 17 kills, 6 digs, 1 block; Neil McCarter 14 kills, 6 digs; Jack O’Shaughnessy 15 kills, 3 blocks. LM—Tim Forella 9 kills, 8 blocks; Spencer Maloney 11 kills, 10 digs; Alexander Daigle 11 kills, 3 blocks; Dan Kryzanski 9 kills, 2 blocks.
Records: Masuk 9-4; Lewis Mills 4-6.