Few of the stragglers milling around after Saturday’s volleyball State Finals were watching girls’ volleyball receive the second place trophy, which is to trophies what fruitcake is to dessert.
Perhaps they were too dazzled by the tableau of celebration and camera flashes on the Barnstable side of the court to notice the Tigers. The Barnstable fans had plenty of reason to celebrate. Their Raiders had just won their third consecutive State championship with a come-from-behind 3-1 victory, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest teams to ever compete for the title.
Or maybe they were too exhausted to lift it after playing the biggest points of their still relatively short volleyball careers. They had fought until the bitter end, scraping out three season-saving points off of senior Caileigh Byrne’s serve. With each point scored came the knowledge that it was not nearly enough to make up for a double-digit deficit, but still the Tigers hung around before Raiders senior Regan Bristol powered home her 17th kill to close the book on one of girls volleyball’s best seasons in team history.
The box score will accurately reflect that the Tigers won their first set 25-13 before dropping the next three, 25-16, 25-23, 25-17. It will grossly underestimate how courageously the Tigers played and how painfully close they came to winning.
The Tigers had easily taken the first game, thanks to their 7-0 run midway through the frame on junior Alana King’s serve, putting them up by a comfortable 19-9 margin. King then secured the game nine points later with a deftly placed tip kill, firing up the Tigers’ jam-packed and raucous student section.
But Barnstable responded swiftly and effectively. The Raiders battled back in the second set with a 12-1 run to bring them to game point with a 24-13 scoreline. By then, North coach Richard Barton had subbed in his role players to give them the extraordinary experience of playing for the State Championship. The Raiders’ all-but-inevitable 25-16 win in the second frame set the stage for a the crucial third.
Having jumped out to an 18-12 lead in the third set, the Tigers needed just seven of the next 19 points to bring themselves within one set of their first State title. Barnstable, whose only loss in its past 50 games had been to this very Tigers squad two weeks earlier, had other ideas in mind. The Raiders launched a 7-1 run to tie the match at 19-19, with back-to-back kills from Bristol forcing Barton to burn a timeout.
Though senior Anya Carr Klein delivered a huge block kill on the ensuing point to put the Tigers back on top 20-19, Barnstable prevailed on a 6-2 run, capped by two uncharacteristic hitting errors by the noticeably shaken Tigers. From there the fourth set was a formality. Tied at seven after a block kill by Tigers junior Infinti Thomas-Waheed, Barnstable virtually sealed the championship with a 13-2 run to put them within five of the title. Despite valiant efforts at the death, the Tigers walked off the court with the dubious distinction of a second-place finish.
Even the typically even-keeled Barton was visibly shocked after the match.
“I guess 10 minutes from now I will think it’s more incredible than I feel this very moment. It’s just…” He trailed off, pausing for half a second. “Somewhere we lost the momentum, and we couldn’t get it back again.”
As painful as it was, the loss should take little away from a season in which the Tigers achieved far more than for what any second place trophy will give them credit. The Tigers knocked off three previously undefeated teams, including Andover in straight sets in the State Semifinals. They also avenged their sole regular-season loss against Lincoln Sudbury by edging the Warriors in the rematch at home late in the season.
“It was absolutely the proper outcome for Barnstable and Newton North to be playing this very game,” Barton said. “Whenever you get to any final, the outcome is always then in doubt. We could play this match again 10 times and each win five.”
Barton noted that the match demarcated a transition period for this team, which will graduate senior captains Byrne, Carr Klein, Keane Brazda and Deanna Cortina.
“It’s the end of a mini-era that those seniors are graduating,” he added. “They were terrific and instrumental in getting us where we are.”
Brazda, who signed her national letter of intent yesterday to play at Bucknell next year, echoed Barton’s sentiment.
“This was a great season, and even though one game didn’t go how we wanted it to go, you have to remember all the good things that happened,” she said.
Eventually the second place trophy will be carried back to this school and placed in the display case in the athletic wing. Meanwhile, life moves on. The parents, students and even the players will overcome the still-agonizing loss over time.
In a little while, people will forget the scores, and in a longer while so too will they forget the players. The lone memento will be a wooden trophy, streaked with silver, reminding those who walk by about what a very special volleyball team accomplished in the bitter month of November.
The players themselves will most likely remember more. They’ll remember the pain of this one loss, sure, but they’ll also remember the collective joys of their 22 wins. They’ll remember the many times when they were playing points at a Division I-level, flawless volleyball, the kind of volleyball that proves to everyone that they belonged on that court.
And, when they do get around to remembering Saturday’s contest, they’ll remember the night they competed for the championship, the night they made every last orange-clad fan in those rickety bleachers proud to say they went to this school, the one magical night they walked in the volleyball sneakers of giants and played the match of their lives.