WELLESLEY, Mass. -– When you’ve been around the game as long as Agawam head coach Pat Demers –- an octogenarian -– there isn’t much you haven’t seen or done.
But in her 15th year coaching the Brownies, Demers won her first ever state championship, a 3-1 win over Milford at Babson College.
The Scarlet Hawks took game one 25-21 but the Brownies took the next three, 25-21, 25-21, 25-23 to win the MIAA Boys Volleyball State Championship.
Demers has taken her team to the postseason in all 15 years she has coached the Agawam boys, including quarterfinals, semi-finals, and finals, but told her team they needed to go all the way this time.
“I’m getting to be an old lady,” said Demers, who is 81 years old.
Senior Sawyer Frederick led the way with 26 kills for Agawam, including eight kills in each game three and game four and the game-winning kill.
“Absolutely unbelievable,” said Frederick of his feelings. “It’s a crazy feeling obviously, I’ve never had it.”
The Brownies finished the regular season at 17-2 and earned the top seed in the West bracket, before winning five playoff games to be crowned state champions.
“I told everybody at the beginning of the season that I’ve got the materials to take us to states and damned if they didn’t,” said Demers. “I’m very proud of them, they worked hard.”
Milford –- which lost in last year’s state championship –- jumped out quick 3-0 lead in game one, all points that were attributed to Agawam errors.
“It was definitely nerves,” said Demers. “It’s the first time they’ve ever been here. They were here last year so they knew they’ve got the jitters over with. I said to them, ‘it’s your turn to have the jitters so get rid of it right now.’”
The Brownies quickly shook off their jitters, leading for almost all of game two before picking up their first win at 25-21.
Milford opened up game three with an 8-2 run that included five kills from Milford junior Michael Antonellis –- a career-high 22 for the match –- but a Frederick block kill helped cap a 9-2 run for Agawam to give the Brownies at 11-10 lead. The teams traded points back and forth before three straight Milford errors gave Agawam a 23-19 lead.
“We’ve always had a thing we get ourselves in a hole and we have to crawl back,” said Demers. “If you get ahead, you better damn finish it off and keep the lead.”
Junior Bailey Cecchi finished game three with a big kill for the Brownies to put Agawam up 2-1.
Milford looked to stay alive in game four, building a six point lead twice, 17-11 and 20-14, but the resiliency of Agawam kicked in again, as the Brownies finished game four on an 11-3 run to win, which Demers credited to her team going back to basics.
“We started to get a little bit confused as to what we needed to do to bring it home it faster,” she said. “When we tried something new, it didn’t work. I said go back to basic volleyball: pass, set hit, get the serve over first.”
As Frederick slammed home the game-winning kill, the Agawam players mobbed one another on the court as Demers enjoyed her first ever title.
“It’s unreal,” said Frederick. “It feels great. Honestly my team and I came together and accomplished it for coach. I’m sure she feels amazing and I’m glad to give it to her.”
A Déjà vu Nightmare: For Milford, this year was supposed to be their redemption tour after suffering a heartbreaking loss in five games in last year’s state championship to Cambridge.
They even returned a group of strong core players in Kane Wittorff, Michael Soares, and setter Tim MacMannis.
But in late April, optimism quickly went away when Wittorff –- arguably their best hitter -– went out for the season with a knee injury.
“The kids had a lot to prove,” said Milford head coach Linda Zacchilli. “When Kane went down, a lot of their peers and anybody that was following us they felt like the season was over -– we still would be successful but not make it to the championship match. I think they had something to prove and they weren’t going to just lay down.”
Milford lost their first match without Wittorff, a 3-1 loss at the hands of the eventual North champions, Lawrence.
But the Scarlet Hawks adjusted quickly and won the last nine games of their season, only dropping two games in the process.
After rattling off three straight wins to win the Central, Milford avenged their lone regular season loss by beating Lawrence 3-2 in the state semi finals.
All that was left was what alluded them one year ago –- a state championship.
“Last year, when we walked out of the gym, this is all we wanted,” said Antonellis. “We got here, we did what we needed to do but we fell a little short.”
Milford will now hope that they have a chance to make the third time a charm next year.
“I don’t care what anyone says, we’re coming back here next year,” said Antonellis. “We’re all going to work so hard to come back and we’re going to make it happen again.”