By Jeff Hamrick email@example.com
---- — LAWRENCE — Even after a slew of unforced errors left Andover on the brink of elimination, the Golden Warriors didn’t easily surrender their unbeaten campaign.
But despite hanging with second-ranked Newton North in the Division 1 semifinals, Andover saw its season-long 23-match winning streak come to a slamming halt last night at Lawrence High School. The Tigers (22-1) posted their 17th shutout of the season, knocking off the Warriors 25-19, 25-22, 25-20.
“We didn’t have our A game, but (Newton North) is a very good team,” said Andover coach George Sullivan after his squad lost for the first time since dropping the Division 1 North final in straight sets last year to Central Catholic. “We played well, but we made some foolish mistakes.”
The Warriors hurt their cause in the opening two games, committing 20 unforced errors. In both of those games, Newton North took early substantial leads. The Tigers used an 8-2 run to build a 9-3 lead in the opener and eventually opened a 21-9 advantage — more than enough to hold off Andover’s 8-1 charge that cut the deficit to five.
In the second game, a seven-point run that included kills by Azita Bakhtyari and Liz Wait and a Marcela Familiar-Bolanos ace gave the Warriors a 16-11 edge. But unforced errors once again aided the Tigers to 12 of the ensuing 15 points.
“The defense wasn’t very sharp, but (the Tigers) hit the ball very hard,” said Sullivan, who has no player taller than 5-foot-10 compared to three 6-footers on the Newton roster. “Being small out here hurt us ... I couldn’t find the right combination tonight.”
Andover toughened in the finale. The clincher was tied 16 times and featured five lead changes. Andover twice led by two — its biggest leads of the night. After Newton North grabbed a 13-12 lead, the Warriors forced seven ties, the last at 20, but never again held a lead. Once again, unforced errors provided four of Newton’s final seven points.
“We knew what they were going to do, but we didn’t cover it well,” Sullivan said. “We dug ourselves in a hole every time and it was really hard to dig out of those holes.”
Even though the season ended one game shy of a state title match, the Warriors still regard this as a successful campaign.
“This season’s been amazing,” said Lauren Gibson. “I’ve never been on a team that had more heart than we had. We never gave up. It was great to make it this far. I didn’t think we were going to do it, but it’s amazing that we even made it this far.”
agateHed:Newton North 3, Andover 0
Division 1 Semifinals
Kills: A — Lauren Gibson 7, Azita Bakhtyari 4, Liz Wait 4
Blocks: A — Molly Cronin 3, Wait 2
Assists: A — Lauren Murtagh 8, Becky Hoffman 6
Service points (aces): A — Marcela Familiar-Bolanos 11 (1), Bakhtyari 6 (1)
Digs: A — Sarah Weimer 3
Newton North (21-1): 25 25 25 — 3
Andover (23-1): 19 22 20 — 0