Avengers mount late comeback to earn spot in Division II finals

Julia Stanger sets the ball during the wild 3-2 EG win.

NORTH KINGSTOWN – The season was over. The Avengers had had another great run through Division II – winning  14 league contests in the regular season – but facing a 21-14 deficit to Burrillville in the fourth set, there was simply no way EG could rally back to win the semifinal match. Except there was, and they did.

The Avengers scored 11 of the last 12 points in Game 4, and cruised to a fifth-set win of 15-6 to make it to the D-II finals for the third consecutive season. Overall, the Avengers won the semifinal tilt, 15-25, 26-28, 25-19, 25-22, 15-6.

Rachel Rowey was a key piece of the wild comeback, contributing three kills in the late stages of Game 4 and an ace for good measure in the deciding Game 5.

“It’s incredible, after being down two sets,” to win, said Rowey. “We fought as hard as we could to come back. All the girls have worked so hard this season. It’s a great feeling.”

Tuesday’s playoff game looked to be a walk in the park early for the Burrillville Broncos (18-1 overall). They overcame small Avenger leads in both of the first two sets to put EG on the brink of elimination.

Katelyn Paine and Karlee Cournoyer were on their A-game in those first two sets, accounting for a combined total of five kills. Paine had a trio of aces in the first set.

The Broncos played some of their best volleyball at the end of the first two sets. They ended Game 1 on a 13-3 run to erase a 12-12 deadlock. The Broncos trailed as late as 17-16 in Game 2, but another decisive run put the team up big.

“After we lost the first two sets, we knew we weren’t going to give up,” Rowey said. “We kept up the energy.”

Playing just miles from their school campus, the Avengers enjoyed a healthy, home-like atmosphere. With their parents and a gaggle of students cheering them on, the Avengers surged towards an unlikely comeback.

The Broncos continued to control the pace of play through the first 20 points of play in Game 3. Rowey started to warm up from the outside, slamming home a pair of kills that erased a 10-10 tie.

“We have an incredible setter on our team, so that definitely helped,” Rowey explained of  her success. “Communication was great on our side of the net during [those final three] games.”

Melis Kocak also warmed up as the match wore on, helping her Avengers to a 14-13 lead in Game 3.

EG held on to win Game 3, but fell behind big in Game 4. Paige McCreight and Alyssa Simpson geared up for big Bronco hits and the team soared out to a 21-14 lead.

Four points were all that separated the Broncos from the D-II finals and the Avengers from a long off-season. The match switched directions on a dime, as EG suddenly began to accumulate momentum with each and every point.

Kolack and Rowey combined to score three of EG’s final points during the furious comeback. 

The Broncos were four points away from victory, but only scored one more point in Game 4 following the 21-14 lead. They only led 1-0 in Game 5, before EG fully took over and cruised to a 15-6 victory.

“Every single girl on this team is so close,” Rowey said. “We’re basically like a family. It would be the best feeling in the world.”

The Avengers are the defending champs in D-II, having defeated Lincoln in last season’s finals. They lost to Cranston East two seasons ago, also in the title round.

West Warwick will be the squad standing in the way of potential back-to-back Avenger championships. The Wizards have never won a girls volleyball title at any level, but they did defeat EG in both of their regular season meetings.

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