Girls volleyball: Amherst rallies past Westfield in Class A semis

Amherst’s Emerson Joyce (12) serves an ace against Holyoke in the third set Tuesday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Emerson Joyce (12) serves an ace against Holyoke in the third set Tuesday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 10-26-2023 9:19 PM

AMHERST – After dropping the first set to No. 3 Westfield in Thursday’s Western Mass. Class A girls volleyball semifinal, No. 2 Amherst’s players were more upset with themselves than at the Bombers.

Unforced errors and serving mistakes cost the Hurricanes in a tight first set, giving their opponents a leg up despite Amherst having home court advantage. 

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. That first set was just missed serves, unforced errors, we realized that,” Amherst libero Liza Beigel said. “Coming in the second set, (we said) we're gonna get our serves in and we're gonna cut down on those unforced errors, and we did.” 

Cleaning up their play, combined with some strong serving and truly tenacious defense, was the difference-maker for Amherst. The ‘Canes won out the next three sets, punching their ticket to a third consecutive western Mass. final with a 3-1 win over Westfield (24-26, 25-19, 25-22, 25-17). 

After dropping the first set, senior setter Annabel Ogden came on to replace fellow senior setter Abigail Como, a planned move by head coach Kacey Schmitt. Ogden helped the team secure a win in the second set, and rode out the momentum for the remainder of the match, playing out the remaining sets and finishing with 26 assists and 11 digs; Como ended her night with 10 assists.

“It’s been a blessing and a curse in a way for me because I can't even remember having two such equal setters, most of time I don't have two setters. So it's been hard for me to decide who is the best setter to match the team or play, because they do have different styles,” Schmitt said. “But as far as the two of them in practice, they get along great.”

The end of the first set was a nailbiter; Amherst had set point up 24-21, but the Bombers got a block to get the serve back and then rattled off four consecutive points, with the final point coming from an unforced ’Canes error.

That lit a fire under Amherst, which opened the second and third sets with big offensive runs; the home team raced out to a 10-2 lead in the second set and a 7-2 lead in the third. Both times, Westfield stormed back to tie it up. Those fast starts paid off for the ‘Canes, which were able to settle down and rely on their offense and rock solid defense to fend off the visitors.

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“(Westfield) played really great defense, it was hard to put the ball down on them. We tried to find open spots on the court. So what we talked about in that circle (after the first set) mostly was if you can't hit it, try to put it where they aren't, and just stay mentally tough all the way through,” Schmitt said. “I think they came down more charged (in the next set). They weren't down, they were more motivated after that first set.” 

Ruby Austin led the offense with 11 kills, helped out by Lauren Joy (nine kills) and Shannon Klaes (seven kills). Beigel gave Westfield nightmares in the back court, digging up 34 balls, including an incredible one by her fingertips in the third set to help Amherst keep a multi-point lead. 

The win marks the third consecutive time Amherst will be in the western Mass. final, and also the third consecutive time the program will face off against Longmeadow for the title. The teams are tied 1-1 – Amherst won last year 3-0, and Longmeadow took the win the year before 3-1. 

“This is our third time up against Longmeadow. We have 10 seniors on the team and that’s a big motivating factor,” Ogden said. “We really want to make this a two out of three (win) and end on a really high note and then go to states.”

The Class A final is set for Saturday at 10 a.m. at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.