The Cranston East Lady ’Bolts won their second straight D-II championship on Saturday night after sweeping the previously undefeated East Greenwich Avengers, 28-26, 25-19, 25-21 at Rhode Island College. Both teams came into the contest at 14-0 in the conference. The win gave the ’Bolts their second straight undefeated season.
“It’s insane,” Cranston East head coach Meghan McGonagle said. “You never expect to win. You never expect to go undefeated. To do it two years in a row is just amazing.”
McGonagle thought this year was going to be an adjustment year for her team, but she couldn’t have been more mistaken.
“This was our rebuilding year, but when you get a couple of freshman like we got, even at the JV level; the sophomores moved up and the juniors all stepped up, so, it was a pretty good rebuilding year,” McGonagle said. “I thought it was a rebuilding year, but then we got a pretty good set of building blocks.”
Cranston East has not lost a set since Sept. 14, when it beat North Smithfield, 3-1. Since then, it has swept 15 consecutive matches on its way to its second straight title.
And, of all the opponents, East Greenwich gave the ’Bolts their most difficult match of the season.
“This was definitely the toughest test,” McGonagle said. “We saw them at the beginning, we saw them in the injury fund, and I knew it was going to be tough. I knew we couldn’t give them an inch. I did not want to let a set go because it would be really hard to come back. I mean, 28-26 in the first game, there was no let up at all tonight.”
Senior setter Joanna Wong had 30 assists in the match and freshman Lauren Milani had 14 kills, while Maia Caito, the senior middle hitter, added 10 kills.
McGonagle said the team benefited from having Caito back in the front row. After playing her sophomore year, the senior star athlete took last season off to focus on basketball.
“Personally, I wasn’t here last year, so this was my first time playing here (RIC), and I just know that I wanted to come here with energy,” Caito said. “I know that our coach believes in us and I wanted to make sure that we all believed in ourselves.”
Caito and Wong had been a solid tandem all season for Cranston East, and it was no different on Saturday night.
“Joanna and I are really close, and I think that helps our chemistry on the court because of our closeness off the court,” Caito said.
Though this is the second straight title for Cranston East, McGonagle said her team only returned three starters from last season.
“We had a totally different team last year,” McGonagle said. “And, I said that it’s a totally different game. We had a great defensive team last year and this year we’ve got a good offensive team.”
The ’Bolts jumped out to a 1-0 lead in set one when, on a return, Emily Fagundes passed to Wong, who assisted to Chelsea Asare, the senior middle hitter, for a kill. East Greenwich answered when Lucy Schwab passed to Brianna Rowey for a point, tying the set at 1. After that, Caito scored on back-to-back returns before her teammate and outside hitter Lauren Guzman scored on a return of her own, putting the ’Bolts up, 4-1.
East Greenwich responded with back-to-back points when Hope Votta blocked Caito in front and Sophie Johnson scored on serve to pull East Greenwich within one.
Later in the first set, Wong assisted on points to Guzman and Ella Glantz and gave the ’Bolts a 9-4 advantage. The teams would seesaw back and forth a bit before East Greenwich pulled within 17-16 when Rowey spiked one past Caito. Two plays after that, East Greenwich knotted it at 18 when Callie Chan hit an ace past a diving Milani. Then, East Greenwich took the lead when Viviann Goulet assisted to Rowey for a kill, putting her squad up, 19-18.
Cranston East went down by as much as three before tying the match at 22 when Asare and Glantz combined for a double block, and Rossini Felix followed it with two points on serve.
East Greenwich had set point at 24-23 before the ’Bolts tied it when Wong assisted to Milani for a spike.
With Cranston East down 26-25, East Greenwich was on the verge of winning the set when Glantz had a timely miscue, launching the ball backwards, but when it looked like all was lost, Fagundes, the libero, raced back and made a sensational save, hitting the ball back to her team before Felix knocked in a point, tying it at 26.
“She’s just been amazing this year,” McGonagle said of Fagundes. “She’s done such a good job in the back row. She’s improved every single game. She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she’s just phenomenal back there.”
On the ensuing play, Wong set up Caito for a spike, and then Caito used a block on Votta for the game-winner, giving the ’Bolts a 28-26 victory in the first set.
In the second set, Cranston East went up 1-0 after an ace from Asare. But, East Greenwich scored three straight times after that, taking a 3-1 advantage. Then, the ’Bolts tied it at 3 after a return from Felix and an ace from Milani. Shortly after, Caito scored with a block on Votta and followed it with a kill past Schwab to put the ’Bolts up, 5-3. However, East Greenwich knotted it at 5 with a point from Votta with Jules Abella on serve.
Later in the second set, East Greenwich took a 13-9 advantage when Schwab assisted to Rowey for a monster spike into the campfire. A little while later, Schwab passed to Goulet for a kill and gave East Greenwich a 19-15 edge.
Nevertheless, Cranston East scored 10 straight points after that. The rally started with Wong assisting to Caito for back-to-back spikes, and then Milani and Guzman both finished off returns, before Caito earned a block, giving the ’Bolts set point at 24-19. Lastly, Milani scored the set-winner on serve, giving Cranston East the 25-19 win of set two and a 2-0 lead in the match.
In the third set, Wong set up Caito for a splash past Johnson to give the ’Bolts the early 1-0 lead. Then, senior setter Emily Mellor passed to Milani for a spike, which increased the ’Bolts’ edge to 2-0. East Greenwich scored three straight after that before Cranston East tied it at 3 when Caito stuffed Votta at the net.
Later in the third set, East Greenwich took an 8-4 lead when Goulet swatted one in from the middle, and then Rowey dropped one down in front.
Yet, the ’Bolts were able to tie it at 9 after a left-handed dig from Milani, a point each from Fagundes and Guzman and two from Asare, one of which was a block.
The ’Bolts went up, 18-17, when Wong set up Milani for a spike into the campfire. On the ensuing play, East Greenwich knotted it at 18 when Goulet placed one down the middle.
Cranston East went up, 21-19, when Wong set up Milani for a tally. After that, the ’Bolts continued to roll, scoring three straight points, including a kill from Milani, to get to set point at 24-19. East Greenwich temporarily staved them off, using back-to-back returns from Goulet and Votta, but Caito would eventually bury the game-winner after an assist from Wong. The team rejoiced on its side of the court after taking the final set, 25-21.
Before playing in the championship game, the ’Bolts swept the Westerly Bulldogs in the semifinals, 25-16, 25-10, 25-23 at East Providence High school on Wednesday evening. In that contest, Wong had 25 assists and Caito added nine kills.