In an attempt to return the ball to the opposing side, sophomore outside hitter Riley Donahue leapt gracefully into the air, with her right arm reared back. As she reached the apex of her jump, she paused for a moment, almost floating above the court, before slapping hard at the ball in one clean motion. With a thunderous clap, the ball shot directly across the court, with no chance that any Coast Guard defender could get in the way.
Unfortunately, when the ball did find a piece of the hardwood, it landed out of bounds. The Bears’ lead grew to 19-16, and looked primed to win their first set after dropping the opening two. Springfield head coach Moira Long decided that she needed to regroup her team, calling a much needed timeout.
“I told the team that we need to be really disciplined, and we’re not doing our whole job,” Long said. “There are a bunch of times where [the ball] goes up and gets blocked, and nobody’s covering.”
As the Pride members returned to the court to resume the game, it was apparent that there was something different about them; as if its whole demeanor had changed. And from that point on, the Coast Guard stood no chance in slowing down Springfield.
Immediately, the Pride won five of the next six rallies, forcing the Bears to take a timeout of their own. But the stoppage didn’t cool off Springfield, who won four of the next five rallies, and not only ending the set; but Coast Guard’s season in the process.
Springfield was dominant from the opening serve in Tuesday night’s NEWMAC Tournament quarterfinal game at Blake Arena, as the Pride sent the Bears packing in a 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-21) rout.
One of the biggest reasons for success for this Springfield team is its ability to win the opening set. In 14 of its 18 wins, including the playoffs, the Pride have won the first set.
“You just want to be aggressive from start to finish,” Long said. “About midway through the year we were really struggling with that – we would get down eight points or ten points and we really want to focus on start fast, start fast, start fast; and then obviously finish fast.”
Springfield’s top performers came from two of its most dependable players: graduate Ally Townsend and Donahue. Townsend, the conference leader in digs with 494, led the team 13. Donahue, the conference leader in kills (315) and points (391.5), was the best on the team with 20.5 points and 16 kills.
Donahue is such an offensive threat thanks to her thunderous spike, and finds that her talents can help get the team moving when they need her most.
“[Spiking] just kind of the momentum going; It kind of gets me going,” Donahue said. “We always practice mixing up our shots a lot, but it’s always fun to rip one in there every once in a while. Everyone gets hyped for each other and it’s awesome.”
With the victory, Springfield is set to match up against Babson in the NEWMAC semifinal round. In their only matchup of the season on Sept. 20, Babson pulled off a major comeback after dropping the opening two sets, winning 3-2 (17-25, 25-27, 25-20, 25-20, 15-12).
Despite not knowing who they were facing in the next round, Long finds that the biggest game plan starts from within.
“We really want to focus on what we do. Once we know where our opponent is, there’ll be some things that we want to take away from them, but for us we always say ‘serve tough, pass the ball around the middle.’ All good things happen from that.”
For Donahue, the plan is a little more simple:
“Play hard, serve tough, and fight.”
Photo: Springfield College Athletics