Kajan Thiruthanikasalam (Sports Writer, Colts Athletics)
SCARBOROUGH, ONT.- For the second time in two weeks, the Centennial Colts women's volleyball team were up two sets against an unbeaten team, this one being the Algonquin Thunder.
This time around, Centennial held on.
The Colts (3-2) gave the Thunder (5-1) its first loss of the season, winning in four sets (25-23, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23) at the Athletic and Wellness Centre, and swept the weekend series against the Ottawa based teams. It is also Centennial's second straight win.
"To be quite honest, I don't really see records," Colts assistant coach Stephanie Legace said. "I'd rather play our game and focus on what we do on our side."
"We did look at the record, knowing that they were coming in with a lot of outside momentum," middle hitter Emily Joe admitted. "But it didn't faze us; it was really just to play our game to the best of our ability and win."
Despite committing 18 service errors and being beat in blocks (8-5), the Colts held a decisive advantage in kills (54-32) and assists (44-31). Centennial also outpaced Algonquin in digs (55-51) and aces (12-9).
"We worked on a lot of things and moved forward with it, which was really good for us," Joe said. "We just tried to stay consistent most of the time, which we did (today)."
"The service game is big because we work so hard to get back these services and when we miss those (serves), it gets harder for the team to win it back," Colts assistant coach Stephanie Legace said. "I think it is something that we need to work on but it was great because we have some players that are very consistent with their serves so we kind of balanced that out."
Thunder outside hitter Rylee Leger had a game high 19 points and paced all players with four blocks but balanced scoring from the Colts stymied Leger's production as four players scored in double figures.
Joe and outside hitter Mari Pikkov each had a team high 17 points and 15 kills while outside hitter Elizabeth Chow had 16 on a game high four aces and middle blocker Shanelle Woods had 11 points with a team high two blocks.
"Both (Woods and Chow) of them are really strong hitters and blockers," Joe said. "Liz (Chow) is a rookie; she's coming out here, getting constant kills and being a positive influence on the team."
This year's Colts have seven rookies on the team, compared to three from last year. Joe says that the rookies give the veterans and the team a huge boost.
"New additions give us a different insight," Joe said. "It's always a good thing."
Both teams went back and forth with no team leading by more than two points for most of the set. Algonquin looked to take control of the first set, taking a 22-19 lead. But with Soro taking serve, Centennial rallied with five straight points, capped off with a block from Woods and a pair of aces from Soro.
"Going on service runs gives us a lot of positive energy and can completely change the momentum," Joe said. "Once you have that momentum late in the set, it's a huge thing."
After the Thunder scored a point, Pikkov hit a kill to end the set as the Colts took the set, 25-23.
After Chow started off the second set with a kill, Algonquin scored the next four points and held a 6-2 lead before Centennial rallied to tie the set at 10. The Thunder then took the lead at 17-15 before an error from them and another kill from Chow tied the set at 17.
Algonquin scored a point after that to take a brief lead but Chow then made her mark in the set, hitting two aces and a kill, as the Colts scored four straight points to take a 21-18 lead. It looked like the Colts were in control, taking a 23-19 lead but an attack error from outside hitter Lizzie Bowers, consecutive Thunder blocks, and a Thunder ace tied the set at 23.
Interim coach Bronson Chu then called a timeout and Centennial immediately responded. Back to back kills from Pikkov and Joe ended the second set as the Colts took it once again by a score of 25-23. Chow had four kils and three aces in the set alone as her service game played a key role in the Colts taking the second set.
Just like that, the Colts found themselves in the same position that they did against the Lancers. The question was: Can they close the game out?
Algonquin wasn't going to give the game to them easy as they scored the first five points of the set and 16 of the first 22 points to take a 16-6 lead. Miscommunication on the defensive end, combined with attack and service errors, played a major role in the early deficit.
The Thunder were still up big in the set with a 17-8 lead before Centennial came roaring back with six straight points to cut the lead to 17-14, highlighted by aces from Joe and Soro and a pair of vicious kills from Chow. Algonquin, however, pushed the lead back to six (21-15) and forced a Colts timeout.
Out of the timeout, Centennial scored six of the next seven points and cut the lead to one (22-21), highlighted by a service ace from Pikkov.
This late rally forced a Thunder timeout and Algonquin responded with three straight points, helped by a service error from Pikkov as they took the third set, 25-21, and ensured their perfect season.... at least, for another set.
"They (Our team) did a lot of self-evaluation and seen what they need to do between us (coaches), themselves (players) and the team," Legace said. "They never gave up, even when they were down 10 in the third set; they almost won that set."
Both Centennial and Algonquin wrestled momentum away from each other in the early stages of the fourth set as it was tied at 10. But this was where the game hit a turning point as the Colts racked off 10 of the next 12 points to take their largest lead out of any set at 20-12. Pikkov had four kills during that stretch and started a sequence in which they scored three straight points off of kills.
The Thunder were not going to go quietly, however, as they went on three separate mini-runs (3-0, 2-0, 3-0) during the latter stages of the set. But in all of those runs, it was ended with three momentum killing kills from Joe as the Colts were two points away from victory, up 23-20.
"I would say if any team can get up that high, any team can come back from that much," Joe said. "It's more for me, at this point, as soon as I get it, I'm going to kill it."
"We reminded ourselves to never let an inch to anybody," Legace said. "Always work hard for every point."
Attack errors from Chow and Soro gave Algonquin a chance to steal the set but Chow then took over, getting the last two Centennial points on kills to close the match (with a Thunder kill sandwiched in between) as Centennial took the fourth set by a score of, once again, 25-23.
Centennial looks to extend its winning streak to three games when they play the Georgian Grizzlies (4-3) on Wednesday Nov. 22 at 6:00pm.