RICHMOND – Every time it appeared Marian Central was ready to finish off Richmond-Burton, Rockets outside hitter Ali Frantti stepped up.
The Hurricanes couldn't build off a win in the first game as the refocused Rockets cruised to a 25-13 Game 2 win. Yet it was Marian's collective offensive attack, featuring six players tallying at least three kills, that proved to be too much for R-B. Marian maintained a four-point lead late in the decisive third game, led by Alex Kaufmann and Sarah Schafer's combined six kills, for a 23-18 lead.
Frantti tried to fuel R-B's comeback, but after two Marian unforced errors and a kill from middle blocker Rachel Guistino, the Hurricanes' double block stuffed a Frantti shot to give Marian the 25-20, 13-25, 25-13 victory.
"That was really awesome to see they can put it behind them and focus on the game in front of them and not worry about it," Marian coach Laura Watling said. "It really is hard when you get beat like that in the second game."
The two teams last met in a sectional championship last Nov. 1, with R-B beating Marian Central 21-25, 26-24, 25-22 in a sectional final. The Rockets went on to become the Class 3A state runner-up.
While the Hurricanes (1-0) had some unforced mistakes in their season opener, a diverse attack kept the Rockets guessing. Giustino finished with a team-high eight kills while senior outside hitter Frankie Taylor (seven kills), Schafer (six kills) and Kaufmann (five kills) each stepped up in key moments for Marian.
"Our front row hitters are really quick," Giustino said. "After the second game, we just said, 'Let's play our game.'"
Even with the Hurricanes keying on Frantti, she still managed to find openings in their defense and took advantage of back row attacks. Frantti, who finished with a match-high 22 kills and four aces, helped the Rockets take a 4-1 lead in the Game 2 which they never relinquished, and tallied four of their final five points in the third game.
"I get really excited in the those moments," Frantti said. "I love pressure and I feel like I thrive in those situations."
Although the Hurricanes don't have a true go-to hitter at this point in the season – as evidenced by setter Katherine Adams and setter/right-side hitter Kaufmann spreading the ball around – the development of multiple options has Watling excited to see what this team can achieve.
"We're very young, but we have a lot of talent out there and lot of new players stepping up," Watling said. "We feel like there's always somebody in the front row that will come through for us."
It was no secret the Rockets (0-2) would be relying heavily on Frantti. As an inexperienced team, coach Kaycee Kaywood and R-B will need Frantti to carry the offense most games, a position Kaywood believes the Penn State-bound Frantti is capable of handling.
"I'm impressed with how we came back in the second game," Kaywood said. "[Frantti] had amazing court awareness and her leadership really sets her apart."