CUMBERLAND --- It’s been seven years since Cumberland High last captured a playoff game, but on Thursday night, the Clippers ended that drought in a big way in its Division II preliminary-round match with Warwick Vets High.
Michaela Leblanc and Michelle Malboeuf had solid games at the net and Robyn Andrade and Jessica Larivee keyed a strong showing from the service line for the Clippers in their easy 3-0 triumph at the Clippers' Wellness Center.
The sixth-seeded Clippers breezed past the Hurricanes by scores of 25-14, 25-13, and 25-8 and will now hit the road for a tough quarterfinal-round test on Monday.
They will battle third-seeded West Warwick High in a 6 p.m. match at the Wizards' gym. West Warwick, which earned a preliminary-round bye, finished 12-2 and was the runner-up in the Division II-Central ranks to unbeaten top-seed Bay View Academy.
“This was a great match to get ready (for the quarterfinals) because it gave us time to do what we need to do,” said first-year Cumberland coach Jay Guinan, “But West Warwick is a step above, so I guess we’ll have to do some magic tomorrow and Saturday to figure out how we’re going to make it work.”
It will be the Clippers’ first visit to the quarterfinals since 2003, which ironically was the last time they enjoyed a winning season, doing so in the Class A-North circuit.
But Cumberland, which suffered preliminary-round setbacks in its last three postseason appearances (2004, ’05, and ’09), dropped down to Division II this season after winning just 10 matches over the past four years.
And the move paid dividends for the Clippers, who were 11-3 and ended up finishing in second place after coming up short in a tight duel with Burrillville High for the Division II-North title.
The Clippers played some of their finest volleyball toward the end of the regular season, and their fine play spilled over into Thursday’s contest with the Hurricanes, starting with their superior showing at the net.
Leblanc, who along with setter Hannah Robison are the Clippers’ co-captains, delivered a half dozen kills at the net, with a couple of those worthy of a highlight reel, and Malboeuf added five kills.
The victors also received four kills from an unlikely source, sophomore Sam Bertherman, who was called up from the junior varsity team for the playoff run. She was pressed into duty when outside attacker Justice Driscoll injured her right ankle after one of Warwick Vets’ blockers accidentally stepped on it near the net.
“I think she was more frightened than anything else,” reported Guinan. “The medic came out right away and reviewed her and she was walking around by the end of the match, so she may be ready to go by Monday.”
Another key to the Clippers’ victory was their outstanding effort from the service stripe. The Clippers totaled 15 aces, with five each coming from Larivee and Andrade, and took advantage of a lot of service errors by their visitors.
“(Warwick Vets) wasn’t consistent in their game and they made unforced errors,” Guinan said. “If you can make less unforced errors than your opponents, you’re going to win. We made 12 (unforced errors) tonight, and when we make less than 15, we normally win.”
The 11th-seeded Hurricanes, who were 8-6 in the Division II-Central ranks, but 6-3 over their last nine outings, only led once the entire night when they netted the first two points of the opening set, but after that, the match belonged to Cumberland.
There was very little drama in this contest, especially in the last two games. The Clippers used a 10-point run in the middle game to break a 1-1 tie and cruise to victory, and in the final game, they stormed out to a 10-0 lead that quickly grew into a 14-1 command.