BRISTOL - No matter how well the Berlin girls volleyball team played in its match against Bristol Central, the Redcoats were not going to deny the Rams a victory Monday night.
Central swept Berlin 3-0 in the match (25-9, 26-24, 25-21) and showed it can bounce back from difficult stretches of play and still win without a consistent performance. The Rams failed to duplicate its dominance from the first set into the ensuing games, but never let the game out of reach and always came back to complete the sweep.
Junior libero Sam Sklenka’s defense kept Central involved all game, finishing with 19 digs and one kill while sophomore Alex Rivera kept the ball alive and put her teammates in positions to score with 13 assists and three aces. Berlin senior Kiley Cullen led the way for her team with five kills and one ace.
“[Cullen] had a couple of key hits that was kind of nice they were having a hard time defending,” Berlin head coach Angela Kumm said. “Normally she doesn’t get to be that standout player, so she came in clutch in those second two games.”
The Redcoats had no answers for the Rams early in the first set as Central held serve for the majority of it and won 25-9. After Berlin cut the score to 8-7 early in the set, the Rams won 13 consecutive points to run away with the opening frame. This streak survived two timeouts from the Redcoats and featured sound play from everyone on the court, forcing Berlin to make the mistakes.
“The difference in the first set in comparison to the other two sets is we kept the ball in play, we made them earn their points,” Central head coach Lance Pepper said. “We have a lot of success when we serve aggressively and the same goes offensively. We were clicking off the start with our communication as well and all of that carries over.”
The roles shifted in the second set as Berlin was the team in control of the game, Central still fought its way back to win the set 26-24. The Rams played much less consistently, making more communication and serving errors than their clean and efficient first set.
“The big difference was we gave away way too many free points,” Pepper said. “I think we missed six or seven serves in that set, we ended up having hitting errors in addition to that and that just snowballed. As soon as we’re able to turn that on, we’ll be ok, but [we need] to be able to get over that hump.”
Central always kept the score close, but Berlin stretched its lead as large as five points throughout the set. Berlin minimized its mistakes while the Rams lost all of the cohesion that allowed it to take the first set unbothered.
“I made some defensive changes, which helped in the next two sets,” Angela Kumm said. “Our serve-receive is something we’ve struggled with all year, so I made some defensive changes. I made one of my middles play all the way around and she’s a really good passer so I let her have an opportunity to play [in the] back row. It helped keep us in the game and she’s super quick so I think that was one of the big ones.”
The Rams tied the score for the first time at 12-12, but repeatedly made serving errors when the score was at its closest. The game reached a 24-24 tie before Central put two points together to win its second set in a row.
The competitiveness lived on into the third set as both teams challenged the other to go on a run. Berlin for much of the set, but once again could not put Central to bed and let the Rams hang around long enough to take a 22-21 lead and then win 25-21.
“We really need to figure out how to finish a game,” Kumm said. “We’ve been in a position where we’re at 20 points and we’re ahead of that team multiple times this year and we can’t finish it. We need to just work on finishing the game and if we can turn that corner then we might have a couple of [wins] under our belt.”
Even as the Rams struggled to serve well consistently, they managed to do it when it mattered most as junior Olivia Clingan notched five aces in the contest to go along with three blocks. One of her most crucial aces came when she found an empty space in the Redcoats formation and put the ball where no one could reach it, cutting Berlin’s lead to 19-18.
“Serving is a huge weapon for us being able to get some free points out of the other team’s serve-receive,” Pepper said. “As long as we serve aggressively, we have a ton of potential to get some points off of that and that was difference in closing out the second set with Olivia Clingan and closing out the third set with Sarah Romano.”
Both teams return to the court Wednesday as the Rams have a road matchup with Platt while the Redcoats will travel to face undefeated Conard.
BRISTOL CENTRAL 3, BERLIN 0
(25-9, 26-24, 25-21)
At Bristol Central
Highlights: Sam Sklenka (BC) 19 digs, one kill; Alex Rivera (BC) 13 assists, three aces; Olivia Clingan (BC) five aces, three blocks; Kylie Cullen (B) five kills, one ace.
Records: Bristol Central 4-1, Berlin 0-4.