A jubilant Winnisquam team celebrates after defeating Inter-Lakes in three in the NHIAA Division III volleyball championship at Pinkerton Academy on Saturday, Nov 4. (Alan MacRae for The Laconia Daily Sun)
By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
TILTON — The Winnisquam Regional High School volleyball team made up for its only loss of the season by bringing Inter-Lakes' hopes of an undefeated season to an end with a 3-1 victory at Pinkerton Academy Friday night in Derry.
Winnisquam Coach Mike Livernois said that the Bears played like an entirely different team than they had appeared to be two weeks ago when they suffered a 3-1 loss on their home court to the Lakers, who went into Friday night’s Division III match with an 18-0 record.
Livernois said it was a mixture of experience and learning from their mistakes in the first match with Inter-Lakes that put the Bears over the top for their third championship in eight years.
He said that some of the Winnisquam players had been to the semifinals last year and played in the championship game in 2015 and knew how to handle the pressure situations that they faced.
But the biggest factor may have been the team watching a video of the previous match with Inter-Lakes. “They saw their mistakes and knew what they had to do to fix them,” said Livernois. “They did it themselves. They executed well. It was all them and they earned it,” he said.
The title match was a bout between the undefeated up-and-comers against an experienced team with something to prove. Led by breakthrough sophomore Emma Wheeler, the Lakers were playing in their first championship since 2004, with a perfect 18-0 record on the line. Winnisquam came into the game with three junior captains, a 17-1 record and a squad that had been to the final four in each of the last three seasons.
Winnisquam opened the match with a pair of victories, downing Inter-Lakes, 25-19 and 25-16, in the first two sets.
Gabby Isabelle, who took over in the second set and finished with 13 kills and 16 digs, led Winnisquam.
Inter-Lakes trailed by as many as 11 points in the first set before getting back into the set. The Lakers were forced to do the same in the second, falling behind, 15-4, until a 9-2 rally put some pressure on Winnisquam.
“I think nerves probably got to us a little bit,” Inter-Lakes Coach Randy Mattson said. “We never really got a rhythm and Winnisquam played great. ... I kept saying to the team during timeouts that, when you get to the championship, you have to play great. Winnisquam was playing great, and we had a hard time trying to stop them.”
The hardest ones to stop were Isabelle and Shannon Goodwin. The duo combined for 28 kills, taking complete control at times for the Bears, whose offense was orchestrated by setter Talia DeBlasie (34 assists, four digs, two aces).
Wheeler finished with nine kills and six service points in the losing effort for the Lakers, who also received solid contributions from Jessalyn Brown (20 assists), Hailey Hart (four kills) and Ava Duymazlar (six digs).
Mattson said she was very proud of what the Lakers accomplished. “We have a young team with some great senior leadership and we had all the components that we needed for a really great team so I’m very proud for sure.”
Winnisquam's Aubrey St.Onge attempts to block an incoming spike from Inter Lakes' Emma Wheeler during the NHIAA Division III championship at Pinkerton Academy on Saturday, Nov. 4. (Alan MacRae for The Laconia Daily Sun)