ST. PETERSBURG — The first thing fans see when they enter Kenyon Field House on Canterbury’s campus is a mural that reads “Crusader Country.”
On Tuesday, the Crusaders proved how poignant that description is as Canterbury pulled out a stunning 21-25, 25-11, 25-20, 26-24 victory over Cambridge to advance past the second round of the Class A region playoffs for the first time in school history. The Crusaders won the final six points, including the winner in which Cambridge’s high set caromed off the rafters for a foul.
“When we heard how they said we wouldn’t be able to beat them even though we won both regular-season matches and compared it to years past,” said senior Alexis Conway, who had a match-high nine aces. “We used that as motivation.”
Conway, who has endured losing to Cambridge in the playoffs each of her three years on varsity before this season, was instrumental in getting Canterbury back into the match after the Crusaders (25-6) looked sluggish in the first game. She used her jump serve to force Cambridge (19-11) into five unforced errors as Canterbury built a 7-0 lead in the second game and then helped extend the lead later in the game with two aces during a 7-0 run to stretch the lead from 12-9 to 19-9.
After taking the third game, the Crusaders seemed as if they were on the verge of letting the Lancers extend the match to five before Samantha Burgess forced a side-out at 24-19. After a series of Cambridge errors, Mansie Hough served an ace to set up the winner.
“Emotionally, last season, I just don’t think we were able to handle the pressure very well (after the Crusaders lost in the playoffs following two regular season wins over Cambridge),” said Hough, who had seven of her team-high 14 kills in the deciding game.
“Alexis was the key to us gaining the momentum in that second set. I was just trying to concentrate on getting the serve in (in the fourth set) so we could have a chance to win. There’s no way we wanted that match to get to the fifth set.”
Cambridge junior middle hitter Olivia Yeager had a match-high 18 kills to lead the Lancers.
“It’s frustrating the way that last game ended because we felt we were on the way to a win,” Yeager said. “We just ended up making too many mistakes and then other things happened that were out of our hands. It’s something that we don’t want to have happen again next year.”