By RYAN D. MURRAY
The Lady Panthers, led the West Warwick Wizards two sets to none on Tuesday evening before collapsing mid-match and falling 3-2 (25-18, 25-22, 23-25, 11-25, 13-15) at home during a Division II-A Girls Volleyball showdown.
It was Johnston’s third match of the season and all three went five sets. This is the first one they lost. And Lady Panthers head coach Greta Lalli believes the mental part of the game got to her team.
“I thought they had the same energy for the third game, and then I think that it just got in their heads.” Lalli said. “They know what they’re doing. Nobody was hurt. Everyone was fine. It’s just mentally, they couldn’t do it. Eighty-percent mental, twenty-percent physical. So, definitely the mental got the best of them, for sure.”
West Warwick jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the opening set before Johnston sophomore Makayla Scuncio scored three points on serve, and then Talia Laflamme added a block, and Gianna Fernandes a kill, and gave the Lady Panthers a 7-5 lead.
The Wizards evened the game at 7, but then Johnston went on a spurt and saw senior Brynn Roche score four points on its way to a 20-10 advantage.
The Lady Panthers drew set point when Tori Viau, a senior outside hitter, made a dazzling save and dished to Fernandes for a kill. Four plays later, Johnston capped the set with a Laflamme spike, which gave the Lady Panthers a 25-18 win of the first set.
Johnston senior Brooke Marcotte started the second set with two points on serve, and then Roche recorded a kill and grabbed the Lady Panthers a 4-0 advantage.
Midway through the set, Scuncio served and scored and extended the Johnston margin to 10-4.
Soon after, Fernandes assisted to Roche for a kill and that upped the Lady Panther’s lead to 14-7.
Late in the game, the Wizards managed to pull within 23-22, but then West Warwick committed a double-hit penalty and that handed the Lady Panthers set point at 24-22. Roche closed the set with a block on Amaya Louro and gave Johnston a 25-22 win.
Johnston had a chance to put West Warwick away in the third set when the squads were deadlocked at 23, but Roche overshot a kill, and then Hannah Calabro, a sophomore had a return error, and that gave the Wizards a 25-23 victory and kept them breathing.
The Lady Panthers looked out of sorts in the fourth frame. Lalli made some substitutions and thinks that too may have messed with her team’s rhythm.
“Athletes can be very superstitious,” Lalli said. “If one thing changes, the whole dynamic changes. If one thing is different, if there’s somebody in a position that they’re not used to, it really gets in their heads.”
But there’s no denying the talent that Lalli beholds.
“All of them are very solid,” Lalli said. “Physically, they’re really great players. Mentally, I think if it starts, it just kind of snowballs. Three of them are 10th graders. So, we’re lucky to have what we have, but we also have to understand that they are young and that they’re not all seniors. So, it was just a tough loss. There’s no rhyme or reason. They weren’t outplayed, they beat themselves mentally.”
In the fifth set, Johnston jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but West Warwick hung around before snagging a 7-6 advantage and never looked back.
Johnston drops to 2-1 with the defeat while West Warwick improves to 3-1.