By Jeff Hamrick
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — There are many positives to be said in any critique of the Andover volleyball season. One of the most significant would be how the Golden Warriors respond to a defeat — especially if North Andover is the opponent handing out the loss.
The third-seeded Warriors rebounded from a second-set setback and routed the second-seeded Scarlet Knights the rest of the way for a 3-1 victory in last night’s Division 1 North semifinals.
Winning the season’s rubber-match against North Andover sends Andover to its fifth consecutive North final against another MVC rival in Haverhill at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lawrence High School.
Andover (22-1) dominated the final two games last night, but it was a 25-27 loss in the second that seemed to wake up the Warriors, who saw a seven-point lead evaporate in the set.
It was reminiscent of the entire season, which began with a five-set loss to the same Knights in early September.
“After the first game we lost to them I gave them the old (Lawrence) Taylor of the Giants quote,” Andover coach George Sullivan said. “The sin’s not getting knocked down; the sin’s not getting back up. And they got back up. They dug in and dedicated themselves. That’s because of the leadership provided by (senior) Chelsea Hu the outside hitter and (junior setter) Azita Bakhtyari. I’ve got great leaders.”
The season-opening defeat spurred the Warriors onto a 22-match winning streak that included 20 shutouts, including each of the 17 previous to the semifinal showdown.
Against the Knights, whose only two losses in their 23-game season were to the Warriors, Andover used a 13-3 run to build a 21-16 lead before winning the first game 25-19. After falling behind 7-10 early, the warriors had only one unforced error the remainder of the opener.
“Losing that first game of the season kind of motivated us,” said senior middle hitter Rachel Schnakenberg, who had a team-high 17 kills. “It made us want to beat them the second time and beat them this time, especially since we were on their turf again. We had something to prove again.”
The second set featured seven ties, five of them after North Andover rallied from a 13-6 deficit to tie at 16.
“I thought we definitely had some momentum,” said coach Veronica Schaefer, who guided the Knights to a school record 21 victories. “This team is made of something special. They’ve got the grit.”
But North Andover’s success only spurred the Warriors, who never trailed in the final two games, building leads of nine in the thrid en route to a 25-16 victory and 13 in a 25-12 game-four win.
All of which puts the Warriors into the familiar North championship affair, which they’ve split the past four years.
Other than the Knights, Haverhill (18-3) was the only team to win a game against Andover in the Warriors’ 3-1 victory Sept. 17.
“I think we’re going to go into that game confident and strong, and play our best,” Schnakenberg said.
Andover 3, North Andover 1
Kills: A — Rachel Schnakenberg 15, Chelsea Hu 13; NA —Catherine Flaherty 11, Merry Eagan 8
Blocks: A — Madelyn Reppucci 7, Wyllie Boughton 6; NA —Eagan 6
Assists: A — Azita Bakhtyari 16; NA —Erin cox 27
Service points (aces): A — Mackenzie Kennedy 25 (3), Addison Kennedy 19 (4); NA —Cathy Zhang 16
Digs: A — Hu 4, Sarah Kenyon 3, A.Kennedy 3; NA —Rachel Karpinski 33, Jillian Boyle 28
Andover (22-1): 25 25 25 25 — 3
North Andover (21-2): 19 27 16 12 — 1