Centennial coach Michael Bossom credited his team’s victory to one thing Monday night: serving. He thought his Eagles struggled in just about every other facet of the game — hitting, serve receive and passing — but overcame all of it against Reservoir because of a dominant evening behind the service line.
“It was big. We had to keep the ball in play and make them play the ball,” he said after his team swept the Gators, 25-22, 26-24, 25-22 in a 3A East, Section I semifinal. “When we did that, we were successful. When we didn’t do that, they were successful because they can do some things when they’re in system.”
The Eagles finished the match with 13 total aces — three each from libero Binderita Undrakhbold, who was starting in the place of an injured Camila Cavero, and outside hitter Sarah Allen — and had only three service errors.
Combined with some timely kills from Jackie Sterenberg (eight kills) and the ability to pull through late in each set, Centennial (10-5) ended Reservoir’s season and moved into the sectional final against Atholton on Wednesday.
For the Gators (6-9), the match was essentially a microcosm of their season as a whole. They were in contention to win each of the three sets but couldn’t find a way to win.
“A couple of unforced errors unfortunately, but we grew a lot this season with a lot of the things we’re trying to do with the program, which was great to see,” Reservoir coach John Crinion said. “... Maybe it was a little bit of anxiety, a little bit of nerves in the tight game. In general, considering where we were from the beginning of the season to the end, we got a lot better with that. We were able to push well but unfortunately we started a lot of games down five or six points.”
The Eagles led most of the early stages of the opening set but trailed, 17-16, before making their run. Four different players — Emily Przybyla, Sarah Allen, Emily Dewhurst and Sterenberg — had kills on four of their last five points.
Centennial jumped out to a big lead, 9-2, in the second set before the Gators rallied once again. They tied the set at 12 and took a one-point lead after Kayla Browne had four consecutive aces, but a 17-13 advantage wasn’t enough. A block from Przybyla and three straight aces from Allen tied the score at 17.
Reservoir had set point at 24-23, but the Eagles won the final three points on a kill from Nicole Attram, Sterenberg ace and a foul to take a two-set lead.
The Gators took a quick 2-1 lead in the third but trailed the rest of the way before tying the score at 19. Sterenberg, however, had back-to-back kills and Centennial held off another rally from Reservoir to win and advance.
“Coach Bossom definitely helps push us and he has some motivational words and grit, that nothing hits the floor and it doesn’t have to be pretty,” Sterenberg said. “It boosts our confidence going into the playoffs with another game against Atholton on Wednesday. That’s a big game for us.”
With a few injuries and illnesses, Bossom admitted his team was a little nervous entering Monday’s playoff opener because they hadn’t practiced with the rotation they used. Reservoir is also unlike any team in the county, he said, because of their athleticism, and it makes preparing for them a challenge, which made the victory all the more important.
“They play a style that most teams don’t and it’s very hard to replicate in practice,” Bossom said. “Their athletic ability and their size makes them difficult. You don’t see that everyday. Everyday in practice you almost see every other team, kind of.”
The Eagles lost to Atholton in four sets on Oct. 24 on a night where they won the county title. Now, Centennial will look for revenge and earn a spot in the regional championship game.
“I expect Atholton to be tough,” Bossom said. “They’re a tough team and they do all phases of the game well. We will have to play at our best to be competitive and try to win that game.”