Belchertown girls volleyball works hard to sweep Easthampton

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 09-18-2023 9:30 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The Belchertown girls volleyball team was one point away from its fourth sweep of the season, leading Easthampton 24-20 in the third set. But the Eagles refused to back down, as they ripped off five consecutive points to storm ahead 25-24. After the Orioles stayed alive in the next point, senior Christina Santiago stepped behind the service line looking to put Easthampton away.

Santiago had a terrific game already up to that point, and needed to play hero one last time. On cue, she served out the set, including a blistering ace to give the Orioles a 27-25 third-set win. Belchertown won 3-0 (25-18, 26-24, 27-25) over the Eagles to improve to 4-0, all wins via sweep.

“We have a flair for the dramatic, we just wanted to keep playing volleyball,” Gramuglia said of the third set with a laugh. “Yeah, it’s just the way of the game. We made some mistakes, they made some mistakes. You just battle back-and-forth, and then finally put the nail in the coffin.”

Easthampton was a point away from sealing the deal in the third, yet its best chance to win a set came in the second. The Eagles were ahead 22-18 and had all the momentum from their home crowd. Belchertown responded in a massive way, as the Orioles scored five straight to take the lead behind the serving of junior Vivian Ross – who tallied two aces in the five-point stretch. After splitting the next four points, Belchertown’s Ava Shea put the set away with a kill just as she did in the first set.

The second set is always the most pivotal, with the match either moving to a 1-1 tie or one team taking control at 2-0. Easthampton head coach Molly Jacobson felt that her team made too many mistakes throughout the match, which the Eagles couldn’t get away with against the Orioles.

“We just couldn’t really diversify our hitting,” Jacobson said. “We weren’t getting kills from all over the place, it was just one hitter carrying our offense and we’re not gonna win games like that. We had a relatively off night passing, too, usually our passing doesn’t give up as many errors or aces as we did tonight. The only thing we can do is bounce back.”

From a Belchertown perspective, the second set was exhilarating.

“Electric. I was like, ‘Wow,’” Gramuglia said of her team’s comeback. “We’ve always maintained composure, and I think that has to do with the level of maturity that they have now as volleyball players. A couple years ago, that wouldn’t have been the outcome. They maintained their composure, they know how to play together, and they stuck to the goal – which was to win.”

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Jacobson was proud of the way her team fought, but recognized the Eagles’ effort was too little too late.

“We’ve got fight in us, but we’ve gotta have fight from the get-go,” Jacobson said. “We can’t just fight when we really need to. If we come out fighting, we can handle teams much easier and we can come out on top.”

Santiago proved to be too much for Easthampton. She struck for 14 thunderous kills and had six aces and four digs as well. The senior is one of the leaders for Belchertown, and showed up in the biggest moments when the Orioles needed her.

“Talk about somebody that’s invested in themselves,” Gramuglia said. “She plays all the time, she loves volleyball, and she is a ruthless competitor. She can be quiet sometimes, but I heard her more on the court today. She was fired up, and it was really nice to see that.”

And Santiago can be labeled as undersized for an outside hitter, which makes her efforts even more impressive. Gramuglia doesn’t see Santiago’s size as an issue with the atheltic ability she possesses.

“Listen, if you can jump, height doesn’t matter,” Gramuglia said.

It may still be very early in the season, but everything seems to be coming together for Belchertown in 2023. The Orioles have five seniors and three juniors leading the charge, and all of them have developed a clear chemsitry on the court – thanks in large part to them playing together over the summer.

“They’ve been playing together for awhile,” Gramuglia said. “A lot of them invested in themselves and played in the off-season, which I think really helped. Some of them actually played on the same club teams together, so I think that really helped. And they’re older now. When they started playing varsity, they were freshmen and sophomores, and there was a lot of pressure. Now, as juniors and seniors, they’re more confident in themselves and who they are as players.”

For the Eagles, Kierra Carson led the way offensively with seven kills, Erin Teague added 10 assists and 12 digs, and Kaylie Downie recorded a game-high 24 digs.

Easthampton (4-3) has already played in seven games this season, three more than Belchertown and also more than other Hampshire County teams. While playing and getting game reps is certainly nice, Jacobson wishes she had more time to practice with her team to work out some of the kinks. The Eagles only had time to practice once last week due to them having four games scheduled. They play again Tuesday night as well, a 5 p.m. road match with Holyoke.

“We’re getting a lot more game time than other people right now, I don’t really know why we’re front-loaded,” Jacobson said. “I wish that it was a benefit for us, but it’s exhausting to play as many matches as we play. Like last week we only had one practice. Only having one or two practices a week can be tough because we’re not spending the quality time making the improvements that we need to make. It does make a difference.”

Belchertown (4-0) returns to the hardwood on Wednesday, as the Orioles hit the road for a 5:15 p.m. game with Pioneer Valley Christian Academy.

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