Spartans dig deep, upend Blanchet

Fueled by a partisan crowd, BHS toppled the top-ranked Braves.

The Spartan girls volleyball team’s victory over number one-ranked Bishop Blanchet Thursday evening had the drama and emotion of a homecoming, with raucous fans, flowers for seniors and the return of star outside hitter Michelle Miller to the front line.

Even the Spartan football team showed up – to cheer.

Bainbridge beat Blanchet 25-21, 17-25, 25-18, 10-25, 15-11 in the final game of the regular season. Each team finished 9-1 in league play and earned a bye in the first round of the Metro tournament next week.

The win marks the first time the Spartans have beaten Blanchet in varsity girls volleyball, a milestone for coach Julie Miller, who took over a struggling program at the junior varsity level nine years ago.

Going into Thursday’s game, Blanchet was ranked first in state and Bainbridge third.

After losing to Blanchet in September, the rematch lived up to its billing as Michelle Miller, just back from knee surgery, went head-to-head with Blanchet’s star hitter, Stephanie Augustavo.

Throughout the game, the two traded digs and kills, often bringing the boisterous crowd to their feet. In the end, Miller had 19 kills and 20 digs; Augustavo 20 kills and eight digs.

Although the two hitters provided dramatic moments, it was the Spartans’ teamwork that made the difference – a strength that has been building throughout the season between seniors Ashley Bice, Sarah Braun and Samantha Nelson.

“Everybody played well,” said Braun, who had 11 kills, 13 digs and two ace serves – one at a crucial moment in the first game with Bainbridge up 22-18. “We had our ups and downs, but we stayed together.

“We kept coming back and keeping each other up.”

Bice, a consistent performer all year, delivered 11 kills and 38 assists. She also had the match point in game five, and couldn’t stop smiling as the team celebrated on their home floor afterwards.

“That was pretty sweet,” she admitted. “I thought about it the whole day – I knew we could beat them if we just played hard and stayed together. Every time we play them it’s emotional. That’s the hardest part. Tonight we kept it together.”

Samantha Nelson, with 21 digs, credited the enthusiastic crowd for keeping the team positive.

“This was just a totally different atmosphere tonight than the last time we played them (at Blanchet),” she said. “It was hard sometimes, but we didn’t get down. We kept coming back, and didn’t let them get big runs against us.”

Michelle Miller – who had surgery five months ago, and last week got the green light from her doctor to resume match play – talked about overcoming challenges as a team.

“It’s just incredible, how hard we worked and how much we overcame to get to this point,” she said. “It was everyone. Our bench was awesome.”

Coach Miller said the strategy against Augustavo was to move the ball around and prevent the powerful hitter from getting easy sets.

“(Blanchet) lives and dies by her,” she said. “We were able to keep her off balance and take her away from her line (of hitting). If you let her get a good set, she’s hard to stop. Sabrina Tan was great out there tonight.”

Sophomore Hannah Stuart finished the game with eight kills, 16 digs and seven blocks.

Senior Michelle Baggett was injured in a dramatic, out-of-play dig but recovered to join her teammates in the post-match celebration.

The Spartans are likely to meet Blanchet again at the District Tournament the last weekend of October, and Bice said she is confident.

“If we can beat them once, we can do it again,” Bice said.

The Bainbridge JV squad beat Blanchet’s JV 27-25, 25-16, 25-17. Kelcey Dunaway had 16 kills, Allie Post 27 assists and Becky Gotlieb five kills and 20 digs.

On Tuesday the Spartan varsity team got a key, hard-fought win at Eastside Catholic 24-26, 25-9, 27-25, 20-25, 15-8. In that match, Ashley Bice had 31 assists, 18 digs; Hannah Stuart 12 kills, 19 digs, six blocks; Sarah Braun 11 kills, 12 digs; Sabrina Tan, nine kills, 16 digs, two aces.

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