GROTON -- Eighteen.
That is the number of times the Groton-Dunstable Lady Crusaders' volleyball team has come up short against nonleague rival, North Middlesex. On Tuesday night, Groton-Dunstable changed its luck for the better, defeating the Lady Patriots in a grueling five-set battle for the first time in program history, (25-12,25-13,16-25,17-25,16-14.)
"This is the one team we have never beaten in the history of our program," Groton-Dunstable head coach Lisa LaPierre said. "When I talked to the kids before the game, I said, 'If you want to do something no other group of kids has done so far, beat North Middlesex.' I knew they were a team that could do it. It got a little rough in the middle there. It is always back-and-forth with North Middlesex. We love playing them."
On the other side, Mark Roy's Lady Patriots staved off a three-game sweep and dug deep in sets three and four to keep hopes alive.
"If you are going to go five sets, that's the team you want to go against," Roy said of Groton-Dunstable. "They are always well coached. I was very proud of the fact that we came back after losing two games. In our first game, we made too many mistakes. It seems like we minimized those mistakes in the last two games. It was a good back-and-forth match."
Groton-Dunstable handily took the first set 25-12, after leaping out to a 13-3 run.
In game two, North Middlesex showed a bit more fight. But costly errors and mishits again plagued the Lady Patriots. Groton-Dunstable hopped out to a resounding 20-9 lead following an emphatic spike by Jamie Debreceni. Debreceni finished the evening with nine kills and three blocks.
Sammy Jurgilewicz tried to get the Lady Patriots back into the match when she plastered a step-back spike off the set of Junek, to make it 24-12. Not even the effort of the senior captain, Jurgilewicz, could help the Lady Patriots pull off a miraculous comeback. Courtney Hartzell's ace finished off the Lady Pats, 25-12, in set two.
North Middlesex's luck changed for the better in set three. The Lady Patriots started the match on a 9-1 run, behind the strong performance of Junek and Hannah Lawrence. Lawrence helped set the tone for the Lady Patriots in game three, and helped them pull off the 25-16 victory.
The good times kept rolling for the Lady Patriots in game four. North Middlesex received stellar play from its libero, Katherine Koulopoulos, who had five kills in the match. Lawrence had a pair of consecutive aces to start the match, and that helped set the tone for the Lady Patriots.
North Middlesex led by as much as seven points on two different occasions in game four. The Lady Patriots continued to capitalize on well-placed balls from Junek and Jurgilewicz to pick up the win.
After taking game four, the Patriots set up a decisive game-five, where the two teams swapped ends of the floor after the 12th point. The match's first point was a battle of epic proportions. It resembled that of a chess match, where both teams were hoping for the other to make a mistake. Eventually, Rose O'Malley put an end to it and took the match's first point with a spike.
Later in the match, Jurgilewicz upped the anti with a beautifully placed spike in the middle of the court, to bring the Lady Patriots back within one, 14-13.
But it would be all for naught as two consecutive points by the Lady Crusaders earned Groton-Dunstable its first-ever victory over North Middlesex. A stellar set by Debreceni to Sarah Georges gave Groton-Dunstable the 16-14 victory.
"I have to give kudos to Sarah Georges," LaPierre said. "She stepped up and came off the bench. She didn't play the entire game. I put her in the fifth set cause I know she can pass well. She came up big with the kill that won us the game."