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St. Mary's Alyssa Grossi tips the ball over the net. (Item Photo by Katie Morrison)

Fenwick’s height too high a hurdle for Spartans to climb

LYNN — The St. Mary's volleyball team knows it has its work cut out for it whenever it clashes against rival Bishop Fenwick.

The Crusaders have built  a strong program, going all the way to the Division 2 state semifinals last season. This year, Fenwick has a new look, however. The team graduated the bulk of its starting lineup, and new coach Samantha Trant replaced Adam DeBaggis, who stepped down prior to the 2017 season.

But the Crusaders still have a lot of firepower, and it was on display at the Tony Conigliaro Gymnasium Monday as Fenwick swept the Spartans, 3-0, winning by set scores of 25-11, 25-22 and 25-11.

"We came in with confidence. We need three games to make the tournament, and this was one of those three games," Trant said. "I thought the passing was great, and my setter, Elizabeth Pica, had a great game."

The Crusaders have the luxury of height at the net, with Jennie Meagher and Mary O'Brien doing the bulk of the work on the front line. The Spartans were at a disadvantage from the get-go, just because of the size disparity.

"You try to cover it, but we weren't getting to the spots very well, covering the tips," St. Mary's coach Erin Menard said.

Fenwick took a 5-3 lead in the first set on Jillian Hoey's sliding save that she returned for a kill. That got the ball to O'Brien, who rattled off five straight aces before a serving error gave St. Mary's the ball back, down 10-4.

Runs were the name of the game for Fenwick, and it went on another soon after, as Olivia DiPietro delivered five service points, including two aces,  to bump Fenwick's lead to 16-5. Jenny Iudice gave the Spartans some life with three service points, but the momentum was short-lived. St. Mary's Gabby Torres made a nice sliding dig to keep one of the longer rallies of the set alive, but the Crusaders took the point to make it 18-9. An ace from Elizabeth Pica put the set on ice for Fenwick.

The short break in between sets was enough time for St. Mary's to regroup and come out strong. The first few volleys of the second set went the Spartans' way, and Alyssa Grossi dropped in a shot that found open space for a kill to make it 4-3 early. Kills from Iudice and Grossi gave St. Mary's a 9-6 lead, forcing Fenwick to take a timeout.

But all Fenwick needed was one long run to get back into the game, and it got it from Bethany DeMarco, who delivered eight service points to transform a 12-10 Fenwick deficit to a 17-12 lead. O'Brien came through with some timely kills to help the Crusaders hold off St. Mary's.

But the Spartans wouldn't go quietly. Torres' five service points gave them a 22-21 lead.

DiPietro's ace tied it 22-22, another unreturned serve made it 23-22, and a kill from Meagher put Fenwick within a point. Another service point from DiPietro closed out the set.

"When you get into games like that with back-and-forth free balls, it's important for us to play Fenwick volleyball," Trant said. "For them to have that three-point swing was very important and led to the win in the third game."

"We just had something in us, they wanted it," Menard said of the second set. "Alyssa made the difference, I think, she made them alter their hits and gave us a boost there. We can get the middle to alter their hits, we're a different team because we're getting easier balls."

After the back-and-forth set, Fenwick kicked things into another gear to finish out the match. Six service points, including two aces, from Abby Graumann helped the Crusaders put set three out of reach late.

For Trant and the Crusaders, it's a busy and crucial week ahead, with the team needing two wins in their next three games (which are all this week) to clinch a postseason berth. St. Mary's has a big week coming up as well, with the first round of the Lynn City Volleyball Tournament starting Friday.

"(Fenwick is) a very good team, they've been good. Adam, even though he's not there now, he's still a part of it and that isn't going to change. I wish them luck, I hope they can pull this off," Menard said. "For us, it was a good match. We're moving forward and getting ready for the Lynn tournament."

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