Merrimack opens tourney with win over Nashua South

Merrimack volleyball took the court against a familiar opponent last Thursday, but was greeted with a bit of a surprise.

The No. 2 Tomahawks swept No. 15 Nashua South in the first round of the playoffs, after facing deficits in all the three games.

Merrimack was victorious by scores of 25-18, 25-18 and 25-22.

The Tomahawks (16-3) found themselves down 11-9 in the first game, but Caitlyn Paulson mounted a three point run at the line to overcome the deficit. Jen Coffey put later put the match out of reach with five straight.

The Panthers’ height at the net provided an answer to the Tomahawks’ blistering strikes. Juana Borg had seven blocks for South (5-14) and Nicole Fitzgibbons had two.

“We just had to communicate more,” Merrimack coach Tammy Lambrou said. “I told the girls to look for the open shots, take your time, load and retry. When they get blocked, they’ve just got to recover.”

Game two saw the Tomahawks down 13-10, but Jo and Jen Coffey took over when they stepped to the line, Jo with six consecutive and Jen with five.

“We need to communicate more,” Jo said. “Our mistakes held us up, but overall I think we did great.”

However, the Tomahawks would not leave uncontested in the final set. Gabriella Santos served up five straight points to give the Panthers a 12-10 lead that would grow as large as 18-12. From there, Jen Coffey brought forth three kills and four straight points at the line to allow Merrimack to pull away.

“Our blocking caused them to stop their attacks,” said South coach Bonny Ducharme. “They were tipping a lot more than they normally do. Merrimack is not known as a tipping team. That helped us to be aggressive when it came to blocking and it definitely made their offense change significantly.”

Jen compiled 18 kills, four blocks and 10 digs while Jo tallied 36 assists, five aces and five kills.

For South, Fitzgibbons came up with 10 kills, and 6 serving points, Santos had two kills, 13 serve points and 18 digs, Borg had three kills and Cassandra Putsch had three kills, 13 serving points and 27 digs.

Merrimack swept South on its opening day on Sept 9, but was not met with as much resistance then.

“We hadn’t seen South in a long time and it got a lot better,” Lambrou said. “You wouldn’t have been able to tell it was a 15th seed.”

With the early playoff departure, South wraps up a season that was not all as it appeared.

“Our record didn’t speak for the talent that we have,” said Ducharme. “We had a lot of injuries this year, but I’m proud of my girls.”

The youthful Panthers team departs from just two seniors, Fitzgibbons and Sarah King.

The Tomahawks will move forward to see No. 7 Spaulding at home in the quarterfinals.

“We need to play to win and not to not lose,” Lambrou said.