Div. 3 volleyball: Amherst edges Holliston in five-setter, advances to Final Four (PHOTOS)

Amherst players celebrate after defeating Holliston 3-2 in the MIAA Division Division 3 quarterfinal on Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst players celebrate after defeating Holliston 3-2 in the MIAA Division Division 3 quarterfinal on Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst captains Emerson Joyce, from left, Talia Sadiq and Liza Beigel receive the MIAA Division 3 Final Four plaque after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst captains Emerson Joyce, from left, Talia Sadiq and Liza Beigel receive the MIAA Division 3 Final Four plaque after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst poses for a team photo with the MIAA Division Division 3 Final Four plaque and banner after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst poses for a team photo with the MIAA Division Division 3 Final Four plaque and banner after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst players celebrate with the MIAA Division Division 3 Final Four plaque after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst players celebrate with the MIAA Division Division 3 Final Four plaque after defeating Holliston on Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Ruby Austin (9) attacks at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Ruby Austin (9) attacks at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Ruby Austin (9) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Ruby Austin (9) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Lauren Joy (6) hits at the net in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Lauren Joy (6) hits at the net in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Talia Sadiq (5) serves an ace in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Talia Sadiq (5) serves an ace in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Shannon Klaes (4) attacks at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Shannon Klaes (4) attacks at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Annabel Ogden (3) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Annabel Ogden (3) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Liza Beigel (1) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Liza Beigel (1) serves in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Sophie Kawal (7) hits at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Sophie Kawal (7) hits at the net in the fourth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Annabel Ogden (3) sets the ball to Lauren Joy in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Annabel Ogden (3) sets the ball to Lauren Joy in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Lauren Joy (6) tips the ball in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst.

Amherst’s Lauren Joy (6) tips the ball in the fifth set against Holliston during the MIAA Division 3 quarterfinal Thursday in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 11-09-2023 9:41 PM

AMHERST — As she counted down the hours until her team suited up for the MIAA Division 3 girls volleyball quarterfinal, Amherst head coach Kacey Schmitt sent a message in her team’s group chat. 

It was a poem written by Walter D. Wintle, and reads in part: “If you think you are beaten, you are/if you think you dare not, you don’t/if you like to win, but you think you can’t/it’s almost certain you won’t.”

The message Schmitt sent to her team was simple — belief in each other, belief in their abilities, the belief that they could win, would be the difference maker against No. 5 Holliston. 

The ‘Canes internalized that message and carried it into their match, which stretched the full five sets. That indomitable belief in each other gave Amherst a dramatic 3-2 win (21-25, 25-20, 25-18, 23-25, 15-10), punching a ticket to the Final Four in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

The victory was all the more validating after the team fell in a difficult Western Mass final to Longmeadow just a couple weeks ago.

“We have 10 seniors this year. And losing Western Mass, it really hurt but I think we’re proving that we belong… we deserve to be here,” Amherst’s Talia Sadiq said. 

Setter Annabel Ogden (52 assists) played the full five sets for the Hurricanes, with Schmitt leaning on the senior’s setter experience and composure when Holliston was throwing its toughest attacks at them. Amherst has faced some tough teams this year, most notably Frontier, but Holliston’s persistent blocks were something that they had to figure out early on in order to secure the win. 

“I think it was definitely the toughest team with the front row, those blocks were something we hadn’t faced that much yet. I think we really worked our way around them and kept our composure when we got blocked or when it came back at us, which is a hard thing to do sometimes,” said Amherst’s Lauren Joy. who amassed a team-high 18 kills. “I think none of us really let it get to us, we shook it off every time.” 

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In the first set, it was a couple of unfortunately-timed setting errors that gave Holliston the space it needed to pull out the win. Ironically, that was the very thing that sank Holliston in the final set of the night; the visitors spotted Amherst four of its 15 points on service errors, and the final point was a hitting error, a receive that hit the ceiling on its way over to Amherst’s court that gave the ‘Canes a free point and the win.

Amherst’s second set was one of its best of the night; the ‘Canes raced out to a 14-2 lead, valuable points they’d need when Holliston stormed back to pull within five points on a 7-0 run. The Panthers made it competitive, but the ‘Canes stayed strong, and won the third set in dramatic fashion off a Ruby Austin kill. Austin put down 16 kills on the night.

Holliston roared right back in the fourth set, jumping out to a 7-2 lead and forcing an Amherst timeout. Holliston kept the lead for the majority of the set until the home team tied it up at 15-15 and briefly took a 17-16 lead. That was all the ‘Canes could manage; the visitors took the lead back immediately and held on for a dramatic win to force a fifth set.

Despite the back and forth matches, Amherst stayed composed during it all. 

“What impressed me the most, and this is what I told them at the end of the match, was that they did what we always talk about — bend, don't break,” Schmitt said. “They didn't let momentum shifts turn into huge deficits. They stayed really tough all the way through. I think they'd started really much more consistently as the match went on, and I felt like we just never let a ball drop without maximum effort.”

Liza Beigel led the defense with 30 digs for Amherst, while Austin notched 18 digs and Sadiq added 10.

Amherst will face No. 1 Medfield in the semifinals for a chance to play for a title at a time and date to be determined. 

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