KINGSTON — A long championship drought that lasted more than a decade ended on Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately for Burrillville High, it was Exeter/West Greenwich High that halted its 11-year absence from the top of the Division II ranks.
The Scarlet Knights, who were guided by senior sparkplug and tournament MVP Megan Bresnahan, survived a fourth-set barnburner with the Broncos and came away with a 3-1 win in the finals at URI’s Keaney Gym, claiming the match by scores of 25-22, 25-27, 25-20, and 29-27.
It was a tough ending to a truly magical year for the Broncos, who dropped to Division II after five straight losing seasons as a Division I squad. They entered the season with a new coach, former Burrillville All-Division player Heather Farrell, but without the services of eight graduated seniors.
But that didn’t prevent the fourth-seeded Broncos from posting a 14-3 mark that was their best record in more than a decade, saw them win the Division II-North regular-season crown, and upset top-seeded Bay View Academy in Wednesday night’s semifinals.
“Our season was unbelievable,” said Farrell, a 1994 graduate of Burrillville. “These girls played JV and were bench players last season, but they came a really long way. We were shocked to get this far, but they came through.”
The Broncos, who were seeking their first state title since winning the then-called Class B crown in 1990, suffered from the big-game jitters in the early going, but eventually settled down and played very well, especially in their second-set victory.
“We came in a little nervous,” admitted Farrell. “The girls were focused and they were ready, but I just think the nerves got to them.”
The Broncos clearly didn’t show any nerves near the end of the fourth game when they trailed by a 24-18 score and were on the verge of losing the title to the second-seeded Scarlet Knights, who were 16-1 and won the Division II-South crown.
Behind the service of senior co-captain Madilyn Royer, the Broncos rallied for the next seven points and were on the brink of forcing a fifth and final set, but a kill by Bresnahan tied the score.
Both squads exchanged the next handful of points and kept the fans on the edges of their seats, but the Scarlet Knights ended the suspense and the title match when they produced the final two points on back-to-back blocks by Taylor Matook.
“They fought hard at the end,” added Farrell. “They tried their best to come back and win the game, but unfortunately, someone had to lose and that was us.”
The Broncos also did their best in the third set, which was a tug-of-war duel between the two foes until the Knights clinched the game by scoring five of the final six points.
The second set was also up in the air and saw both teams trade the lead early and often and not lead by more than four points. The Broncos won the game when a pair of unforced errors by the Scarlet Knights broke a 25-25 tie.
The Broncos were led at the net by junior middle hitter Mikayla Lipka, who had seven kills and three blocks, and senior co-captain Lauren Plante, who delivered five kills, and four blocks.
Senior Phoebe Klaus and junior Kelsey Koprusak also shined at the service line by smacking four aces each, and junior setter Kylie Camara, sophomore outside hitter Cassidy Tedeschi, and Royer also had strong matches.