Check out a postgame video interview with Kayla Motley, Nicole Daniels, Lauren Carmichael, Emma Zuk and Gabby Medina in the media gallery. Photos by Molly Zuk.
After being edged in the first set, the Stoughton High volleyball team bounced back with a dominant second set and pulled out close victories in sets three and four to earn a 3-1 win over Braintree, 21-25, 25-10, 25-21 and 25-22, in the opening round of the MIAA Division 1 South Sectional tournament Saturday evening at home.
This was Stoughton's first time hosting a state tournament match and just second tournament appearance overall, after the team made its postseason debut last year. More importantly, this was Stoughton's first tournament win in the five year history of the program.
With Stoughton (14-5) beating tenth-seeded Braintree (12-9), the seventh-seeded Black Knights will travel to Barnstable, the #2 seed in the 11-team MIAA Division 1 South Sectional bracket, Monday at 6 p.m. for a quarterfinal round match. Barnstable, 16-1, in the regular season, earned a first-round tournament bye.
Tied at 14 in the opening set Saturday night, Braintree went on an 8-1 run to build a 22-15 lead, holding on for a 25-21 first set win.
Stoughton immediately pulled away in the second set, however, changing the tone of the match. Behind the serving of Lauren Carmichael, Stoughton won the first 10 points of the set. Up 14-4, Ashley Medeiros served Stoughton to a 21-4 advantage, with the Black Knights taking the second set 25-10.
"When you go up against a tough team - and Braintree's a great team - you have to do something to show yourself I can win. The second set told us this - not only can we win, we can bury them because that second set we dominated," Stoughton coach Ken Gay said. "There's nothing more to build your confidence [than to win a set like that]."
Gay said the key was that Stoughton took control of play at the net.
"We've got to control the net and our back row has to keep [the ball] off the floor. If we can just keep it off the floor and give Emma [Zuk] a chance to set something we can do something with the ball and we can bury it," Gay said.
"It's all about getting into a rhythm and the second a team kind of gets on a roll, they get the upper hand," Braintree coach Kristen Orzechowski added.
"I think we fought back...we were in there both [set] three and [set] four, we just didn't play well," Orzechowski said. "Three and Four we were in there, we gained some momentum, but we just couldn't pull through."
Stoughton won a back-and-forth third set, 25-21. In what turned out to be the decisive fourth set, Stoughton trailed 16-12, but battled back to take a 20-18 lead. With the set tied at 20, Stoughton won the next four points with Medeiros serving, and took five of the final seven points overall to win the match.
Medeiros had a strong match serving, finishing with 7 aces and 18 service points held. She also added 17 digs.
Kayla Motley had 12 kills, 5 blocks and 7 digs.
"Kayla dominated," Gay said. "We've been seeing it coming. The first place we saw it was the second Foxborough match here in Stoughton [a 3-1 win on Oct. 17] where that fourth set, everything else had been close, but we get to that fourth set and buried them 25-10 and the reason we buried them is because Kayla took away the net. She let nothing go by her; she was challenging everything...and we saw it again [against Braintree]."
Nicole Daniels had 20 kills and 6 blocks; Emma Zuk had 24 assists from the setter position and added 17 digs; Carmichael had 20 digs and 5 kills; Gabby Medina had 23 digs; and Jalen Joseph added 14 digs.
Braintree was led by its two middle hitters, Bridget Herlihy and Nora Donahue. Herlihy had 11 blocks and 4 kills, while Donahue finished with 6 kills and 3 aces. Rachel Norton had 25 assists; Amy McKinney had 25 digs and 3 aces; and Ashley Russell added 6 kills.
Even though Stoughton was seeded 7th in the D1 South bracket and Braintree was seeded 10th, these seedings are based purely on regular season records (13-5 for Stoughton and 12-8 for Braintree). The high school sports website MaxPreps had Stoughton ranked as the 73rd team in the state in its volleyball power rankings, while Braintree was 21st, so based on these rankings, the Black Knights pulled off a big upset win.
Stoughton will have to do so again this Monday as the team faces an even bigger challenge in the quarterfinals - MaxPreps has Barnstable ranked second overall in the state.
The winner of the Stoughton/Barnstable match will play the winner of the North Attleboro/Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) match in the semifinals.