NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. -- The fact that Barnstable volleyball won another state championship Saturday should come with about as much surprise as inevitabilities such as death and taxes.
Yet, how the Red Raiders finished out their last latest and 15th overall title run was more unlikely. Barnstable nearly fell in its state semifinal match against Lincoln-Sudbury earlier in the week and returned to Algonquin Regional for the Division 1 state championship match on Saturday to face Newton North – a team that ended the Red Raiders’ 41-match unbeaten streak during the regular season.
And while Barnstable got off to a slow start Saturday, dropping Game One, 25-14, the Red Raiders recouped and showed they weren’t about to be fooled again, emphatically closing out a 3-1 victory over the Tigers for their third straight Division 1 title.
“It was straight motivation,” senior outside hitter Regan Bristol said of the rematch with Newton North. “We never want to lose, so … I think that was good, in a way. Definitely a little frustration, but mostly it was determination to beat them.”
The Red Raiders rebounded from the Game One loss, rattling off 25-16, 25-23 and 25-17 game wins.
Faced with a tall task again of maneuvering around the Tigers’ block, Barnstable’s hitters, led by Bristol (17 kills) and Colleen Koen (10 kills), learned and applied their lessons in Round Two.
“They have a great block,” Regan said. “I remember during the regular season, I got blocked by them 20 times maybe. I was ready for that [this time].”
Barnstable seized momentum in a see-saw second game, which contained five lead changes. The Tigers (22-2) led by as much as six points during the game, only to watch the Red Raiders turn a 12-1 run into a 25-16 win.
As in Barnstable’s gutsy win against L-S in previous round, senior setter Kayla Crook was the fulcrum to its success. Crook finished with a game-high 29 assists.
THE ROLE OF UNDERDOG?
It’s conceivable that you could have viewed Barnstable as an underdog in its title defense.
The Red Raiders returned just four seniors (Bristol, Crook, Koen and Anna Strock) from last year’s squad, so when Newton North shocked the state earlier this year, there might have been the sense that the sharks were circling.
Tom Turco’s squad made it no matter for worry.
Take, for example, the Red Raiders’ comeback win on Saturday and a late rally in the semifinal against L-S. Turco preached to his group the recommitment to their preseason goals – which can’t be anything less than a title in Barnstable – in the lead up to the championship match.
He also takes a page from a Hall-of-Fame coach’s playbook.
“Pat Riley talks about how the hardest battle to win is the one after a great victory,” Turco said, citing the NBA great’s book “The Winner Within.” “So the game plan was to come out strong in Game One.”
That didn’t happen so much for the Red Raiders, but again, it’s not so much how you start, but how you finish. And now, for the 15th time in Turco’s 25 seasons on the bench in Barnstable, the Red Raiders have won the final game of the season.