Volleyball: Coe-Brown’s season of ‘grit’ ends with championship loss to Oyster River

Junior Emma Zeblisky serves the ball for Coe-Brown during Saturday’s Division II championship game at Pinkerton Academy.

Junior Emma Zeblisky serves the ball for Coe-Brown during Saturday’s Division II championship game at Pinkerton Academy. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown junior Haile Comeau prepares for a dig in the Division II volleyball championship against Oyster River on Saturday.

Coe-Brown junior Haile Comeau prepares for a dig in the Division II volleyball championship against Oyster River on Saturday. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown’s Annika Gunderson (left) and Emma Zeblisky both prepare to block an attempt from Oyster River during Saturday’s championship game at Pinkerton Academy.

Coe-Brown’s Annika Gunderson (left) and Emma Zeblisky both prepare to block an attempt from Oyster River during Saturday’s championship game at Pinkerton Academy. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Haile Comeau (3) celebrates a point for the Bears during Saturday’s championship game.

Haile Comeau (3) celebrates a point for the Bears during Saturday’s championship game. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Coe-Brown senior Annie Jerome (24) reacts to a call during Saturday’s Division II volleyball championship against Oyster River.

Coe-Brown senior Annie Jerome (24) reacts to a call during Saturday’s Division II volleyball championship against Oyster River. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

Bears’ head coach Renee Zobel talks with her team during a timeout in Saturday’s Division II championship game against Oyster River.

Bears’ head coach Renee Zobel talks with her team during a timeout in Saturday’s Division II championship game against Oyster River. CHIP GRIFFIN / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 11-04-2023 7:52 PM

DERRY – Time and again this season, Coe-Brown volleyball could’ve mailed it in. Off-the-court issues could’ve splintered the team irreparably, with players counting the days until the season was over. But faced with a choice – to continue to fight through these challenges or pack up and go home – the Bears chose the former. In some sense, they emulated that mindset during Saturday’s Division II championship against No. 1 Oyster River (19-0), even though the No. 2 Bears (15-4) lost 3-2 in a thrilling back-and-forth battle.

After losing a heartbreaking first set, 25-23, they rallied to win set two, 25-17. After dropping set three, 25-15, they squeaked by in set four with a 25-23 win. Although they ultimately came up a bit short in the fifth set, 15-8, the effort they put forth was the toughest the unbeaten Bobcats had faced all year. 

For Coe-Brown, it capped off a season of perseverance, a season of fight and a season of grit.

“You just hit a wall, you figure out how to climb over it or go around it, and they never gave up,” Bears’ head coach Renee Zobel said. “Never gave up. Despite the odds against them.”

In a season full of challenges, Coe-Brown found a way to rally, entering the playoffs on a five-match winning streak before sweeping Kingswood and Souhegan to advance to Saturday’s championship. 

Oyster River entered the match having lost just four sets all season. Coe-Brown gave the Bobcats all they could handle.

“I thought overall we played fantastic,” Zobel said. “When we were aggressive, we had the upper hand.  When we took our foot off the gas, they had the upper hand because they got aggressive. That’s how you want a good volleyball match to be. … This crew, to put together what we put together over the course of a season, we don’t even look remotely like the same team that came in in game one.”

The Bears won the state championship in 2021 and finished as the runners-up last year, also losing to Oyster River. In Saturday’s rematch, the third meeting of the season between the two teams, juniors Emma Zeblisky and Haile Comeau did all they could. Zeblisky led the Bears with 12 kills; Comeau led the way with 21 digs. 

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“She had a nice aggressive day today,” Zobel said of Zeblisky. “Sometimes she pulls off and gets a little tentative. Today I didn’t see that hardly at all. She just went for it.”

Comeau steered the ship as the libero, something she’s done on the varsity team since her freshman season.

“Haile has not known not going to the state championship, and part of the reason is players like Haile,” Zobel continued. “Haile came in here, she has a positive attitude every day, she’s energetic, you see her pumping people up, and she will go hard, even when she’s having bad days.”

That attitude became a much-needed energizer for this team this season. When Comeau, also a captain, received the runner-up plaque for the Bears after Saturday’s defeat, she still hoisted it above her head toward the Coe-Brown fans in the bleachers. It wasn’t the plaque they’d hoped to walk away with when the day began, but the fact the Bears made it this far, overcoming everything they had to deal with throughout the season, gave them reason for pride.

Meanwhile, Zobel, almost always steady and stoic in her demeanor, couldn’t help but get a little choked up, thinking back on the journey she’d just helped her players navigate.

“These guys decided every single day to show up and to do the work even when they were in pain, even when they were sad. Even when they didn’t feel like they could work, they showed up and they did it, and that’s what got them to today,” she said. “That’s what I’m really proud of.”