End of the road

DERRY – The Hollis Brookline High School girls volleyball team started the Nov. 5 Division I semifinal like it had never been there before.

Of course, the current crop of Cavaliers hadn’t.

But by the fifth game, No. 4 HB looked like a group of seasoned veterans, overcoming a sluggish start to rally twice and knock off No. 1 Merrimack 3-2 in the Division I semifinals at Pinkerton Academy. Game scores were 12-25, 27-25, 18-25, 25-15 and 15-10.

The win sent HB (18-3) to the championship for the first time since the Cavs won it all in 2011. HB defeated No. 6 Bishop Guertin in Sunday’s final.

"We said coming, they’re No.1, so we knew we had to bring our ‘A’ game," HB coach Becky Balfour said. "That’s a great team, and we knew we had to buckle down. I said to them no matter what happens in set one, two, three, if we go to four or five, just reset and go back at them."

The Cavs got big games from their seniors, as Maddy Blake recorded 15 kills and Bella Zampieri added 32 digs and three aces. Hannah Balfour recorded 38 assists while underclassmen Elizabeth Atkinson and Maddie Norris chipped in as well.

"These seniors are stepping up and leading and these underclassmen are playing for them," Becky Balfour said. "They’re playing for each other and it’s just beautiful."

For Merrimack (19-2), which was undefeated when it won last year’s title, the loss ends a great run that saw the Tomahawks drop just two matches in the last two seasons, both to HB.

Like the Cavs, Merrimack got big games from its experience players, as senior Jo Coffey – who set the state record for career assists earlier this year – finished with 41 assists to go with four blocks and four kills. Fellow senior Katie Flynn had 46 digs and 14 kills while Elise Jolly had 17 kills, 32 digs, seven blocks and 16 service points.

But as the match went deeper into the fourth and fifth games, Merrimack struggled to fight off the jitters.

"It came down to nerves, to be honest," Merrimack coach Tammy Lambrou said. "We had a lot of kids who didn’t see time last year who were out there on the court, and this (the final four) is a big deal. There’s a lot of pressure as the No. 1 seed. We gave it a good run, this was a good game and there’s nothing to hang our head about."

After pulling away late to win Game 3, Merrimack took an early lead in the fourth game, but HB came storming back. The Cavs turned a 2-0 deficit into a 12-5 lead before the Tomahawks took a timeout.

Merrimack couldn’t get back into the game, and then fell behind 11-3 in the fifth before pulling within four late. But it wasn’t enough.

"We said after the first set ‘that’s over,’ " Balfour said. "But we said that after every set. If you look at our schedule, look at how many times we’ve gone to five. It’s a testimony to our girls, that they don’t give up."