In the middle of a tightly contested fourth set, Centennial outside hitter and team captain Mailinh Godschall began cramping. Without their offensive leader, the Eagles remained poised, winning six of the final seven points to secure a 3-1 victory, 25-19, 25-21, 22-25, 25-20.
“When Mailinh went down, it was nice for the younger players to get experience inside of that pressure,” Centennial coach Michael Bossom said. “They didn’t have to think about it, they didn’t have to think about anything else. They could just go in and play because it was an injury.”
Playing in front of a packed student section, the Eagles jumped out of the gates fast, winning nine of the first 11 points in the opening set. Godschall and middle hitter Skylar Brown galvanized Centennial’s attack with kills early on. The Lions trimmed the deficit to two later in the set, but Centennial closed the door down the stretch.
Centennial seemingly took control in the middle of the second set. With the score tied at 6, the Eagles scored seven unanswered points, taking advantage of the Lions’ mistakes.
Middle hitter Kaley Maclellan played an integral role during that stretch with several blocks. Centennial built a 10-point advantage before Howard scored seven in a row. But the Eagles ultimately shut the door for a 2-0 advantage.
“I’m very proud of the way my athletes handled themselves,” Howard coach Grant Scott said. “I had said in the very beginning that it’s going to take time for us to come together. We had runs where they pushed points on us and we didn’t let it get to us. We were down big in that second game and to even make that second game close was impressive.”
Hoping to avoid a straight-set loss, Howard grew stronger as the third set progressed. Outside hitters Kamyla Bullock and Corinne Chau led the Lions attack as Chau finished with a team-high 12 kills. As Centennial inched closer in that third set, Howard turned to its defense for a spark with several blocks to close out the third.
As the Howard faithful grew louder, Centennial needed to mount a response. The Eagles have ample experience in their starting unit and used that veteran composure to regroup.
“I thought we did well, we just made a lot of our own errors,” Godschall said of the message entering the fourth set. “I just was encouraging everyone to keep their heads up, don’t get upset about it because we got the next one. Don’t think about the past, think about the future.”
With the intensity level rising as the fourth set progressed, neither team built more than a three-point lead. In one of the match’s top rallies, Centennial led 19-18 as Howard’s Morgan Harris and Centennial’s Caleigh Kim executed multiple digs to keep the point alive. Ultimately, Howard senior Anna Plecas finished it off with a kill to tie the score at 19.
But the Eagles kept it from being a game-changer. They shut the door down the stretch to close off the season-opening victory.
“It’s the reason you play, it’s so much fun,” Centennial senior setter Brianna Bossom said. “You can never beat the energy and the adrenaline you have being out there. I love this team so much. They’re some of my best friends and it’s something you don’t get to experience often. Being out there with some of my best friends who I’ve played with since I was 12, it means a lot.”