PROVIDENCE — The dominant team in the girls volleyball playoffs, No. 2 Lincoln, was doing to No. 1 East Greenwich what it had done to Chariho and Burrillville on its way to its first Division II title-game appearance.
The Lions, led by seniors Nicole Lezon and Laila Mostello-Wetherbee, simply played the Avengers off the court with superb passing, pin-pointing hitting and tremendous blocking.
But, unlike the Chargers and Broncos, the Avengers responded in the third game and the Lions never found their rhythm again over the final three games. Thanks to improved serving and strong play from All-State outside hitter Vivian and middle Hope Votta, the Avengers stormed their way to victories in the next two games.
EG quickly earned championship point in the fifth game, but the underdog Lions answered with six straight points before Avenger middle hitter Courtney Wegrzyn produced a kill to secure the Avengers the Division II title with a thrilling 15-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-13 victory at RIC’s Murray Center.
“These aren’t tears of sadness, these are tears of joy. I can’t put into words how proud I am,” Lincoln coach Kyle Medeiros said after his team went from four wins last season to a school-record 18 this season. “I’ve said it before, we were a 4-10 team last year and to make it to this stage – to push the only team to beat us to a fifth set, 13-15 – is unbelievable.
“We didn’t win – whatever. It is what it is. These girls put it all on the court and they have nothing to go home and hang their heads at.”
East Greenwich, which one season ago was in Lincoln’s position after losing to Cranston East in the Division II title game, used an impressive serving display from the likes of Goulet and setter Jules Abella to open up a 14-7 advantage in the fifth game. With just one point standing between the Avengers and their second title in five seasons, the Lions battled back.
After a Goulet hitting error, Mostello-Wetherbee delivered back-to-back kills to cut Lincoln’s deficit to just four points. Defensive specialist Emma Navilliat followed with an ace to make it a one-point game.
“It’s so hard, it’s one of the hardest ones to get,” EG coach Justin Amaral said of securing match point. “That’s why we went through two timeouts stuck on 14 points. It’s difficult because that team doesn’t
want to lose and they’re fighting for every point. Our girls were so amped that you make mistakes, but they came through. I’m so proud of them.”
With Lincoln needing just one more point to force the match into extra points, Wegryzn came through with a kill in the middle to secure the Avengers the title.
“After the second game we just had a mindset change,” said Goulet, whose team came back from two-game deficits to beat Classical in the semifinal and the Lions Saturday. “We were going to do whatever we had to do to get this done.”
East Greenwich’s comeback overshadowed a fantastic performance from Mostello-Wetherbee, who has been nursing a knee injury throughout the playoffs. The senior outside hitter delivered a team-high 15 kills and four aces. Whenever setter Victoria Ryan needed a point terminated, she turned to the Lion’s No. 3
“We had to baby [Mostello-Wetherbee’s knee injury] this week, but the heart that she showed from the time that she stepped on the court today to the last point is unbelievable,” Medeiros said. “Whether she had a healthy knee or an injured knee, she gave it all that she’s got.”
Mostello-Wetherbee wasn’t the only Lion who thrived under the bright lights of the Murray Center. Lezon took advantage of East Greenwich’s uncharacteristic poor passing in the opening two games to produce a match-high 12 blocks to go along with two aces. Ryan handed out 33 assists and recorded three aces, while senior outside hitter Olivia Wodogaza had six kills.
After gifting the Avengers the opening two points of the match, the Lions responded with 14 of the next 17 points thanks to the work at the net of Lezon and the hitting of Mostello-Wetherbee. The Avengers closed the gap to just three at 14-11, but the Lions pulled away for a 10-point win.
East Greenwich built a 13-12 lead after a Wegrzyn kill, but then Mostello-Wetherbee and Lezon produced a number of important points to put the Lions on the precipice of victory.
“We knew that they had some pressure on them losing last year,” Medeiros said of the Avengers’ title-game defeat. “We’re the 4-10 Lincoln Lions that showed up out of nowhere and we had no business being here. Burrillville was supposed to be here. Anyone else was supposed to be here, not us.”
Even though his team was in deep trouble, Amaral believed the pressure had flipped to the Lions because, “to me, the pressure is all on the team that’s up 2-0. They have to seal the deal. We just needed to go out there and play hard.”
What the Avengers did over the final three games was serve the Lions out of system, which created points and easy opportunities for Abella to find her quintet of hitting options. The Lions actually had a 9-6 lead in the third thanks to a block from Emma Gianetti, but East Greenwich went on a 16-3 run to take complete control of the match.
The Lions led the fourth game 5-2 and 8-7, but East Greenwich, again, answered with a long scoring run to take a lead they would never relinquish. The Lions closed the gap to one four times, but each time East Greenwich sided out to send the match to a fifth game.
EG raced quickly to 14 points in the fifth game, but the Lions battled back with Navilliat at the service line before the Avengers finally secured the title.
The defeat ends the careers of a number of talented Lions, but Wodogoza, right-side hitter Hannah Schermerhorn and defensive specialist Alexia Walters return with championship-match experience.
“Our senior class, we’re going to miss them dearly, but we have a bunch of experience coming on up,” Medeiros said. “If they work as hard as this class did than we’ll probably be back here next year. I’m very confident in the group we have.”
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello