Volleyball: No. 2 Coe-Brown methodically picks apart No. 3 Souhegan to clinch spot in Saturday’s championship

Coe-Brown’s Annika Gunderson tips one over two Souhegan defenders during Tuesday's D-II semifinal against Souhegan.

Coe-Brown’s Annika Gunderson tips one over two Souhegan defenders during Tuesday's D-II semifinal against Souhegan. Rich Miyara—NH Sports Photography

Coe-Brown’s Annie Jerome spikes the ball for a point against Souhegan during Tuesday's D-II semifinal.

Coe-Brown’s Annie Jerome spikes the ball for a point against Souhegan during Tuesday's D-II semifinal. Rich Miyara—NH Sports Photography

Coe-Brown’s Annie Jerome celebrates after a point for the Bears during their semifinal matchup with Souhegan on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.

Coe-Brown’s Annie Jerome celebrates after a point for the Bears during their semifinal matchup with Souhegan on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. Rich Miyara—NH Sports Photography

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 11-01-2023 9:33 AM

DERRY – Come the semifinal round of the playoffs, experience can sometimes matter just as much as pure talent, composure just as much as elite athleticism. On Tuesday at Pinkerton Academy, No. 2 Coe-Brown (15-3) relied on its experience, composure and quite a bit of talent in the Bears’ methodical take down of No. 3 Souhegan, 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-18), in the Division II semifinals.

Leading for most of each of the three sets, Coe-Brown didn’t leave much suspense hanging in the air over who would punch their ticket to Saturday’s championship match. 

“We just did the work,” Bears’ head coach Renee Zobel said. “We talked about tonight, nobody has to be perfect. You just have to be you, and if you’re having a little bit of a tough night, somebody else is going to pick up the slack. That’s an advantage that our team has that a lot of teams don’t have: Nobody has to go carry. There are plenty of people on this team that, if somebody’s struggling a little bit, somebody else is going to pick up the slack. Nobody needs to be absolutely amazing any given night.”

Senior Annika Gunderson led Coe-Brown with 12 kills and added 15 assists. Annie Jerome led the team with eight digs and 24 assists.

When the Bears faced Souhegan (14-4) back on Sept. 8, Zobel recalled the gym feeling like it was 105 degrees; Coe-Brown escaped in five sets but really had to grind out the win. In the semifinal matchup, the Bears dominated from start to finish, reflecting the significant growth the team has seen since that third match of the season.

“We’ve had a ton of adversity this year that we’ve had to battle through in every arena,” Zobel said. “It seems like all the cards have been against us this year, and to have this crew fight through that and get to this moment and earn the right to play in the finals again this year is something I couldn’t be more proud about.”

Coe-Brown won the D-II championship in 2021 and finished as the runner-up last year after losing to Oyster River, 3-2. While 2023 has brought its fair share of ups and downs both on and off the court for the Bears, Zobel’s group appears to have righted the ship during the most important time of the season. 

“They’ve been working really hard in practice,” she said. “All 12 of them have been fighting like crazy in practice, and that’s how we succeed. It doesn’t happen without every single player on the team. We can’t be successful without everybody, even if they don’t always have a role in the game, they have a huge role in the success of the team.”

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The Bears will face No. 1 Oyster River (18-0) in Saturday’s championship, a team they lost to twice in the regular season – 3-1 on Sept. 15 and 3-0 on Sept. 27.

The journey to the championship game has been far from linear, but Coe-Brown’s found a way to get job done. Through all the challenges, the Bears played on Tuesday like a well-oiled machine fully equipped to take home a championship plaque. They’ve now won six matches in a row and haven’t lost a set since Oct. 2 against Campbell. 

“I’m proud of what they fought through to get here,” Zobel said. “This has been a hard season for every single person, so to do what they did tonight and to get to this moment and to earn it and to do it together, it’s just something I couldn't be more proud of.”