South girls nearly stunned, rally to win in five
NASHUA – The look on Nashua South volleyball coach Wayne Siejkowski’s face told so much about his squad’s Division I quarterfinal-round tournament match with tough-as-nails Bedford on Saturday night. It was a look of relief, near-emotional exhaustion, and a desperate need for a handful of antacid tablets.
The top-seeded and host Purple Panthers came within a whisker of having their exceptional, undefeated 2019 season end with a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the talented, ninth-ranked Bulldogs. But the Nashuans managed to battle all the way back from their 2-0 deficit to eventually win a 3-2 decision which went to match point a bunch of times, with South’s chances of still having their superb season come to a premature end extremely real up until the final points were tallied.
Bedford won game one by a 25-20 tally and set two by a 29-27 score, and South sat a slim three points away from suffering a 3-0 shutout defeat in the third set before it put the proverbial pedal to the metal and came flying back to win that vital game by a 26-24 margin.
The locals then powered their way to a 25-17 success in game four to knot the match score at 2-2.
The Panthers and Bulldogs then battled in earnest in set five in a truly scintillating end to a classic match.
In that final, match-deciding set, the score was knotted up at 14-14, 15-15, 16-16, and 17-17 before the hosts squeaked out the 19-17 victory which stretched their season into the D-I semifinals after it looked totally doomed not that much earlier.
“They were down on themselves a bit early on,” said coach Siejkowski of his charges. “They were doubting themselves a little, and they needed to have some success to restore their confidence. And when that happened they remembered what kind of team they are and they found themselves again.”
South, which is seeking the first state title for a Nashua high school girls’ volleyball squad since the city only had one high school way back in 2003, will now play fourth-ranked Winnacunnet in semifinal action at Pinkerton Academy in Derry on Tuesday evening.
The still-unbeaten Panthers received some exceptional play from senior Player of the Year nominee Kara Kelliher (13 kills), Cara Lecklider (12 kills), Paige Garland (seven kills), Olivia Johnson (23 digs), and Anne Sherman (22 assists).
The Purple Panthers strode into the state tournament with an utterly glittering 18-0 record. They’d lost just 10 games during the entire regular season, winning the required 54 sets to remain perfect record-wise.
Bedford bounded in as the ninth seed after going a strong 11-7 on the regular season, tallying a 3-2 record in its final five contests. Among those last five matches was a 3-2 loss on Oct. 21 to a Nashua South contingent which only lost the aforementioned 10 sets overall all season. So while the Bulldogs had their work cut out for them in their hunt to knock off the top seed, there was absolutely no reason to expect a blowout in the quarterfinal match-up.
Everybody competing in the D-I tournament came into tourney play facing the huge challenge of knocking off the four-time defending champions from Hollis-Brookline.