CUMBERLAND — Ever since North Smithfield lost its season-opening match to Cumberland, a five-set defeat that saw the Clippers clock the Northmen in the final game, 15-3, the Northmen have eagerly awaited their rematch with the Clippers and circled the date on their calendars.
It certainly showed on Tuesday night.
Sparked by their excellent serving and the return of senior outside hitter Tara Larson from an injury, the Northmen shook off a first-set loss to topple the Clippers the rest of the way and register a 3-1 victory at the Clippers’ Wellness Center that gave them their fifth straight victory and a share of the Division II-North lead with their hosts.
The Northmen, who dropped the first set, a thriller that saw the Clippers win it by a 28-26 score, rattled off the next three by scores of 25-16, 25-23, and 25-18.
“We’ve definitely been looking forward to this game and working hard to make sure that we were on the other end of (the outcome),” said N.S. coach Amanda Bednarczyk, whose team and the Clippers are both 8-2. “It was a hard-fought match, and I’m glad it came out in our favor this time.”
While Bednarczyk was pleased with the win and her team’s play, Cumberland coach Ruth Plante was disappointed with the performance of her squad, which stormed into the match with a six-game win streak.
“We just had so many errors, between bad serves, bad serve receiving, inconsistent hitting,” she remarked. “Even in the first game, we had too many errors, and it just snowballed. And (North Smithfield) didn’t have that. They played very well, and there wasn’t one facet of our game that was good.”
The Northmen did play very well, and there were two keys to their successful night. The first was their performance from the service line, where they totaled 28 aces (nearly double the Clippers’ 15) and received eight each from Julia Carlock and Rachael Manzi.
The other was Larson’s return to the lineup, and she had a solid all-around match that saw her collect nine kills and four aces and turn in a fine effort defensively.
“She was coming off a pretty bad injury,” offered Bednarczyk, who also received 15 assists from Carlock. “Tonight was Tara’s first night back and she did an outstanding job for us.”
The Clippers were fueled by the solid play of Samantha Bertherman, who did a little bit of everything with her seven kills, six aces, and 10 digs. She had three straight aces during a seven-point run in the first set that gave the Clippers an early 8-3 lead, and three of her kills also came in that opening game.
But the Northmen gave an early indication in that game that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with, when down by a 24-17 score, they responded with eight straight points to claim the lead. But Cumberland came back to tie the score, and after N.S. took a 26-25 lead, the hosts clinched the set with the next three points.
The second set was a back-and-forth tussle until the Northmen took the lead for good by erasing a 10-7 deficit with six straight points, three of them coming on consecutives aces by Manzi, and they cruised to their nine-point victory by rattling off six straight points later in the game.
Like the first game, the third set was an exciting one, which saw the Clippers, down by a 16-9 score, battle back and use a five-point run to tie the score at 23-23. But the Northmen scored the final two points on a kill by Larson and a passing error by the Clippers, and they never lost the momentum after that.
The fourth set saw the Northmen roll out to early leads of 7-2 and 10-3, and after the Clippers sliced their deficit to two (12-10), N.S. responded with seven of the next eight points to take control of the match.
“We were flat,” said Plante, who also received six kills and four blocks from Erin Rosa. “You could tell. There was no enthusiasm on the court. We’ve had to come back so many times (this year), and it was bound to come back and bite us.”
Both squads are back in action tomorrow night and will need short bus rides to get to their respective matches. The Northmen will take on Burrillville, while the Clippers will face Lincoln.