AYER -- Halfway through the volleyball season, the Lady Panthers have shown a tremendous amount of heart.
They lost to Nashoba in four sets, (18-25,26-24,19-25,13-25), but Wednesday's match was much more than a league volleyball game. It was also about raising adrenal cancer awareness. Prior to Wednesday's match, Ayer-Shirley donated over $400 to the University of Michigan's ongoing research to find a cure for adrenal cancer.
"Nashoba is a great team who serves hard, and they really stepped up," Ayer-Shirley head coach Donna Ferreira said of the Chieftains. "They hit hard and really blocked us. With all that, we fought as hard as we could to score against them, but they have talent."
Well, on Wednesday night at home, Ayer-Shirley did not limit its heart to the action on the floor.
"Adrenal cancer has hit home in the volleyball community," Ferreira said. "There are a couple of friends of mine who have families both at Nashoba and Ayer-Shirley that have a teammate who is stricken with adrenal cancer.
"Nashoba lost a volleyball player, Leah Tepper, last year to adrenal cancer at the age of 19. We have done 'dig pink' in the past, but this year we decided to switch it up because this cancer has struck our volleyball hearts."
Nashoba galloped out to an 8-0 run in game one behind the stellar services of Rita Peirce. Ayer-Shirley libero Sarah Ernst killed the run with a thunderous spike off a quality set from her sister, Rebecca Ernst.
Rebecca blasted home another booming spike to trim the Lady Chieftains lead to 8-3. Ayer-Shirley went down by as much as nine points in game one, but refused to quit.
The Lady Panthers came out of the time-out reenergized, scoring five unanswered points to bring them within three, at 12-10. Julie Maillet had a couple of well-placed spikes in the sequence for Ayer-Shirley and senior captain Emma Sheils tipped the tenth point over for the Lady Panthers.
Nashoba proved to be too much, outscoring Ayer-Shirley 13-5 down the stretch.
Ayer-Shirley used a 9-3 run in game two to get itself back in business after falling behind, 6-1, in the early stages of the match. The Lady Panthers took their first lead of the match, 10-9, on a teardrop spike from Stephanie Chilicky.
Nashoba came storming back to tie the match at 20-20 after Peirce spiked the ball to the left-corner of the floor. Ayer-Shirley shrugged off a handful of side-outs and errors to defeat the Lady Chieftains 26-24.
Ayer-Shirley started game three in a deep eight-point hole. That hole quickly turned to an abyss that the Lady Panthers could not claw their way out of. The Lady Panthers strung together a 6-0 run to bring them within two, 20-18, on a blast by captain Maddie Mitrano. Nashoba closed the match on a 5-1 spurt due in large part to the serves of Vicky Wang.
Nashoba capitalized on Ayer-Shirley's miscues to close out the match in game four, defeating the hosts 25-13. The Lady Panthers came as close as three points on a great spike by Jennifer McGrath, but it was not enough.
"We are going to continue to improve, and do our best to qualify for districts." Ferreira said.