AYER – The Ayer-Shirley Regional girls’ volleyball team has had its share of struggles this season.
The Panthers hit the court Tuesday afternoon against visiting Fitchburg having dropped seven of its first eight matches.
Against the traveling Red Raiders, Ayer-Shirley looked to build some confidence and momentum as the Panthers embark on the second half of their season.
The Panthers appeared to be in a great position to pick up their second win of the season however the Red Raiders rallied late in the match and proved too strong as Fitchburg picked up a 3-2 victory by scores of 25-21, 20-25, 20-25, 25-18 and 15-12.
Fitchburg improves to 2-5 overall on the season while the Panthers drop to 1-8 overall.
“This one felt good, to be able to get this win. It went longer than I was anticipating. Ayer-Shirley is a scrappy team and they battled us tough,” said Fitchburg head coach Laura Bolick. “I’m proud of the girls and the way they played today.”
Panthers head coach Kim Melanson spoke with the Ayer-Shirley Tracker following Tuesday’s defeat.
“I think the girls played really well, give Fitchburg credit. They also played a strong game,” said Melanson. “Our serves were strong but we just had some tough breaks. We had a few holes that we left open and Fitchburg took advantage.”
The Red Raiders built an early 11-4 lead in the first set and stretched it to an 18-6 advantage before the Panthers answered back. Sophomore Grace Cormier and senior Annabelle Clemence were strong up front around the net, each registering kills as A-S pulled to within 20-16 late in the set. Unfortunately for the hosts, that was as close as they could as they never shaved the deficit any smaller than four points the remainder of the set.
In the second set the Panthers roared back with a 25-20 victory. Ayer-Shirley jumped out to an 8-1 lead on the strength of several players including senior libero Madi Davis and classmate Willow West.
Fitchburg cut the deficit to 15-13 later in the set however A-S refused to let this one slip away as it scored six of the next eight points to propel it to the victory.
The Panthers took the upper hand when it secured the important third set with another 25-20 win to grab a 2-1 lead in the match. Cormier, Clemence, West and Davis all played well for the hosts while freshman Isabel Bresnahan came off the bench to provide a spark for the Panthers.
With its proverbial back against the wall in the fourth set, the Red Raiders fought back, picking up a crucial 25-18 win. With the set deadlocked at 10-10, the lead would change hands three times down the stretch. Fitchburg opened a slim 16-15 lead before scoring four straight points to catapult the Red and Gray to a narrow five-point victory and force a fifth set.
“This was the first time that we’ve played a match that has gone five sets this year,” said Melanson. “I thought the girls handled the pressure and the situation well. I’m proud of my girls.”
In the fifth and deciding set, the Red Raiders opened a quick 4-1 lead before the Panthers bounced back with four of the next five points to tie things at 5-5.
This set of runs would continue as Fitchburg went on another 4-1 run to take a 9-6 upper hand.
Ayer-Shirley once again answered with back-to-back points to close within 9-8.
Unfortunately for the home team, this story doesn’t have a happy ending as the Red Raiders wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way, scoring six of the final 10 points to lock up the victory.
Fitchburg returned to the court on Wednesday when it hosted Monty Tech. As for Ayer-Shirley, it is back in action on Friday afternoon when it hosts the Panthers of Marlborough High School.