NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. -- At the end of that day, there can only be one team standing. And for 10 of the last 11 years, and the fourth consecutive year, it has been the Barnstable Red Raiders. A true decade of dominance.
And the way the Red Raiders are playing right now, it looks as if they are set for a century of dominance.
The scene is all too familiar for Barnstable coach Tom Turco. Clear his schedule for the middle of November, because he has a trophy to hoist. It’s almost become as regular as an annual family reunion.
From start to finish, the Red Raiders were quicker, stronger and faster than Newton North, winning in straight sets 25-10, 25-15 and 25-11, capping off a perfect finish to one of the more dominant seasons in recent memory.
Sure, a 23-0 season is pretty impressive. But the Red Raiders took it a step beyond that. Barnstable played a total of 73 sets this season and won 69 of them. Twenty of their wins came via a 3-0 victory, including every match this postseason. Twice they were pushed to a fourth set and only one time did a match go five sets.
“It feels sweet," Turco said following his fourth straight championship season. “These girls go out on a limb, set their goals really high and they sacrifice, they work and they stuck together out there and I’m really happy for them.”
This Barnstable team was not the same as we’ve come to expect from the Red Raiders. This team takes their defense and turns it into offense. They don’t allow the ball to hit the ground and transition quickly from defense to offense. Once they are set up, they don’t attack through the middle, which the Raiders have done for years, and instead attack from the outside.
“”Barnstable forever, we’ve been attacking from the middle, 90 percent of our hits come from the middle,” said Turco. “This year we kept Hannah [Andres] and [Ciara] Bruning on the outside and we knew we had to quicken it up. The quicker you can get the attack off, the less time the defense has and the block has to set up.”
Seniors Bruning and Andres couldn’t be contained on the Barnstable front line. Sophomore Madison Sollows added a third dimension to Raiders attack for which the Tigers had no answer.
“I give all the credit to Barnstable,” Tigers coach Richard Barton said. “It was very cool to watch them play, uncool to be the team losing to them, but we played fine and got nothing out of it."
Three of these Red Raiders, from the time they were freshmen up until Saturday night, were on the floor for each of the four championships. Stephanie Martin, Holly Wilson and Andres saw all four and Martin saw something special about this group of players.
“This team, we’re closer and we spend more time together and we work hard on the court. We bond more off court and on court and it brings the team together.”
The Red Raiders wasted no time establishing themselves as the dominant team, grabbing a 12-1 lead to begin the game. Three times in the opening set the Raiders made runs of six points.
Barnstable got off to anther hot stat in the second set, jumping out to a 15-6 lead before the Panthers, led by Infiniti Thomas-Waheed, found a bit of a rhythm. Newton North lost, 25-15, but matched Barnstable every point for the remainder of the set giving them hope for the third set.
The first eight points were evenly split before Barnstable went on a dominant 11-0 run, giving themselves a 15-4 and a championship coming into sight.
“This is why they’re different this year,” said Barton. “They attack every ball that came over. They’re steadier in every regard. They run offense from all positions instead of the middle, they pass better, nothing hits the floor.”
Junior setter Olivia Brodt set the ball up for all of her hitters, leaving the Tigers defense guessing.
“[Brodt] came into camp in unbelievable physical condition,” Turco explained. “She worked for this and wasn’t going to be denied.”
D2: Notre Dame Hingham 3, Westborough 2
Holding a 18-12 lead and momentum at their backs, Notre Dame Academy had the Division two championship in their sights.
What they weren’t counting on was a Westborough team that refused to give up. The Rangers went on a 15-7 run to force a deciding game five, setting the stage for Notre Dame Academy’s Julia Flynn.
With a championship on the line in a winner take all set, it was only fitting for the senior hitter led her team to claim the state title, just as she had all season.
After a nail-biting back-and-forth battle all afternoon, it was the Cougars that prevailed in the fifth set, taking it 15-12 in front of a capacity crowd at Algonquin High School.
“It was a very very big opportunity for these young women to step up into a moment that big,” Cougars coach Joshua Sheperd said. “After having a lead and letting it slip away in game four, to recapture it and move forward.”
“We had some inspired volleyball tonight. We saw Julia [Flynn] be as advertised both in the front row and back row. Moments carrying her team, and showing them the strength when they needed it."
Trailing 14-12 in the final set, Westborough got what they wanted. A perfect set to Samantha Kehoe, who had carried the Rangers all game. The senior hitter wound up, but a perfectly timed jump from Notre Dame’s Casey Thorbahn blocked Kehoe’s hit and bounced back into play for the championship point.
“Sam did exactly what I told her to do on the last hit,” said Rangers coach Roger Anderson. “I told her to go up and rip it and she did. And I’m so proud of her for that. She got us here and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”
Notre Dame saw some excellent defense from senior Megan Barrett, but the story of the game was the emergence of sophomore Avery Spaziani. And what better place to make a name for yourself than the state championship game.
“We saw inspired defense from our other captain Meg Barrett,” Shepherd said. “We saw an unbelievable dawning of a new player in Avery Spazeroni tonight. She came to play and played the game with heart that was very admirable.”
With time running out on their season, Westborough seemed to bury themselves in too deep of a hole. In the fourth set, already trailing two sets to one they found themselves down 18-12.
An ace from Kehoe, kills from Maria Hession and Julia Arsenault and a couple of fortunate bounces tied the game at 18 and sent the massive Ranger student section into a state pandemonium.
The teams exchanged points up until 25, where a long serve and a bad hit from Notre Dame sent the game into a fifth set.
“That comeback was built on playing a schedule that is really tough and being in battles all year long,” Anderson said of his team in the fourth set. “We don’t relent to anyone. You can knock us down but we’re going to keep coming back.”
Every match was a closely contended game. In the second match neither team strung together more than two consecutive points until Westborough put together a four-point run to take a 20-15 lead. The Rangers went on to win that set 25-18.
“They sent us a message earlier in the year saying Westborough is for real and we’re going to come with it and they did,” said Shepherd. “They came as advertised.”
Notre Dame took a close first set 25-20, with Julia Marshall sealing the win with an ace, and capping a 5-0 run to close. The Cougars also took the third set 25-18, using a 6-0 down the stretch.
D3: Frontier 3, Fairhaven 1
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Red Hawks. After three consecutive state championships, Frontier lost their star hitter Cassidy Stankowski to graduation, leaving a gaping hole as their team’s leading hitter.
With a new philosophy this year, Frontier had no trouble running the Division 3 tournament this season for their fourth title in as many years.
“It's really special to win when you don’t have an all American on your team,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said following the game. “They wanted to show that Frontier volleyball isn’t just Cassidy Stankowski.
“We had that cannon last year, and now we have a bunch of little guns all over the place shooting at you, so we’re a little less predictable.”
After weathering off a ferocious Fairhaven rally in the fourth set, Sarah Woodward clinched the championship with an ace, giving the Red Hawks a 25-22 edge.
The Blue Devils fell behind 20-15 after a 5-0 run from Frontier. The Blue Devils responded with a strong run of their own, but their rally to force a deciding fifth game fell just short and were forced watched the Red Hawks receive the division three championship trophy.
“I thought Fairhaven played pretty well in that set,” said MacDonald. “A couple fluky things and its like okay, things aren’t going our way this set. But we didn’t come in here expecting to sweep Fairhaven.”
After a back-and-forth battle to being the first set, Frontier ended on a 9-3 run, with Cassidy Ciesluk putting the exclamation point on the win with the final kill to give the Red Hawks the all important 25-20 first set victory.
A balanced Red Hawk attack in the second set kept the Blue Devils searching for answers. The Blue Devils offense also had a tough time, as they struggled to find any rhythm. Farihaven never strung together more than two consecutive points in a lopsided 25-15 loss, setting up Frontier with a quick 2-0 lead.
“A lot of it was they needed to relax and they couldn’t get themselves to relax and play their game,” Fairhaven coach Karen Arsenault said. “I don’t think they really did relax, ever, and just play how I’ve seen them play.”
It looked as if Fairhaven was on their way to being swept, falling behind 5-2 and 15-11 and still looking for answers on their offense.
With their backs against the wall, senior Mariah Nicholas led her team back with five kills and a block in final stretch and Fairhaven went on to win 25-20.
“They’ve had this resilience all year,” said Arsenault. “We’ve come back all season, we came back in the semifinals. I knew they could do that, it was just a matter of would it be enough and unfortunately it wasn’t.”
“They had a much quicker game, way quicker game than the semifinal game. They had a lot of go to people and ran a really clean offense. We don’t normally see that. Probably the best team we’ve played all year.“
With Frontier only losing three players to graduation, they look primed to make another run in 2014.
“We have a lot coming back,” said MacDonald. “I feel good moving forward."