HB volleyball defends D-I title

By JASON ORFAO

Staff Writer

DERRY – The little engine that could has done it again.

Hollis Brookline bounced back from a challenging first set and successfully defended its Division I girls volleyball crown with a 3-1 (12-25, 26-24, 25-14, 25-15) triumph over Concord in Saturday’s final at Pinkerton Academy.

"It means the world to us. We like to say we’re one big family," Hollis Brookline senior Hannah Balfour said. "We’re like sisters, so to win this means a lot to everyone."

The fourth-seeded Cavaliers started slow, as second-seeded Concord jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the first set and rolled to a 25-12 victory.

It appeared to be much of the same in the second set as the Tide (18-3) claimed an early 10-4 advantage, but Hollis Brookline (19-3) battled back. After the set was square at 24-all, a kill from Taylor Hamel and a Cavalier block supplied the much-needed 26-24 win.

"It’s a testimony to these girls. We’re the little engine that could," HB coach Becky Balfour said. "Everybody forgets that we’re a D-II size school with 800 kids and we’re competing against schools with 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 kids. They work their butts off day in and day out. It’s such a special group."

The Cavaliers knew they needed to improve their execution if the dream of repeating as champions was going to come to fruition.

"(The first set) was a reality check," Hollis Brookline senior Rachel Bill said. "We realized we need to get our defense up and our block up, and we came right back."

The pivotal third set was tightly contested with HB holding a 14-13 edge, but the Cavaliers reeled off 11 of the next 12 points to comfortably earn a 2-1 edge. Hollis Brookline carried the momentum into the fourth set, and although Concord made a slight push late, the Cavaliers closed out their second consecutive title with the 25-15 victory.

"We like to think the game is purely mental," Hannah Balfour said. "If we can just push forward and we’re all on the same page and we all fight together, amazing things can happen."

And they did.

Hollis Brookline, which claimed the title as the No. 6 seed last year, is the first team to win back-to-back Division I crowns since Londonderry in 2009-10.

Balfour tallied 45 assists while Norris, a sophomore, led the team with 18 kills. Sophomore Elizabeth Atkinson added nine kills, Bill recorded eight and freshman Kaleigh Whalen chipped in seven. Freshman Sammie Sheppard paced HB defensively with 11 digs and Bill factored into eight blocks.

It was the perfect end to sensational stretch for the senior class, which includes Balfour, Bill, Hamel, Kristi Fox and Katie Connors.

"I’m so glad to be a part of Hollis Brookline volleyball," Bill said. "It’s such a great program and I love my teammates so much."

"I couldn’t ask for anything more than these girls," Hannah Balfour said. "They mean the world to me."