Volleyball smashes expectations, sets school records

By Daniel Kats
Published: November 2010

After having one of its best seasons last year, the Girls’ Volleyball team earned both the best record (14-5) and the best tournament seed (fourth) in the history of the program.
In addition to setting school records, the team was ranked among the top 20 teams in the state for the entire season, despite the fact that it was undergoing a rebuilding year. The team’s slogan, “some wish for it, we work for it, explains this success.
The Lions closed out their regular season with a 3-2 win against Waltham High School. Having already clinched a spot in the playoffs, Head Coach Todd Elwell decided to use the game as a final chance to give bench players some playing time and to iron out the final kinks.
The team expected to be challenged by the other teams’ game plans and strategies in the tournament, so it benefited from Waltham’s unusual style of play.
“They were very unorthodox in that they would send the ball over in one or two touches. Your typical volleyball [game consists of] three touches on each side: pass, set, spike, Elwell said.
In the first round of South’s quest for a title, the Lions faced Chelsea High School, the second best team in its league, with an overall record under .500.
Knowing that Chelsea comes from a reportedly easier league than South’s, the Dual County League (DCL), Elwell used this game to keep the team prepared for the second round.
“It was nice playing on that Friday night, because it gave us a chance to play before some bigger games. Sometimes you get a bye and you don’t play for a week. You’ve been playing two or three games a week all season long and suddenly you take a week off and play your most important game of the tournament. That backfires on some teams, Elwell said.
At the end, it was clear that South overwhelmed Chelsea, winning in only three sets 25-3, 25-5, and 25-15.
Senior and Captain Isabelle Young had a great game, hitting eight of her 15 serves for aces and leading the team in kills. Junior Ariel Kaluzhny also served well, recording eight aces on the night.
South won its second round game against King Philip Regional High School, defeating King Philip 25-9, 25-21, and 25-22. Young once again led the team in aces (six) and was tied for the team lead in kills (six) with co-captain and senior Emily Shames.
“We were definitely ready for a harder match than we had played against Chelsea, Kaluzhny said. “I think we were all expecting [King Philip] to be really good, and we forced ourselves to play at our highest level; we really upheld that mentality through the whole game.
Elwell was confident coming into the Sectional semi-final game against Quincy High School, the same school that barely defeated South in last year’s Sectional finals.
“The word on the street was they’re good, but they’re not as good as last year’s team, so I knew we were in a good place statistically [and with our game plan], Elwell said. “I felt that as long as we play our game, we’ll be ok.
The Lions, however, had to face the challenge of playing their first away playoff game of the season.
The first two games were close until the end, but the Lions pulled away with victories of 25-20 and 25-22. However, after going up two games to none, the team changed its mentality and began losing points.
“The problem for us [was that] we were playing not scared, but tentative. We’re now saying as long as we don’t beat ourselves we should win, Elwell said. “We stopped putting the ball away with kills and we stopped serving aggressively.
Unfortunately for South, Quincy began playing better and better, increasing its efficiency with each game. South, however, could not recover from its altered mentality.
“After the first two sets, Isabelle Young said basically what she usually said after two sets, and that is, ‘ËœGirls, this is our game; we are doing so well and we just need to finish it off. We usually lose the third set because we have the first two already and we can’t do that now. This should be our best set of them all and we need to finish them off,’ junior Chloe Jackson-Unger said. “In all honesty I believed that we were going to go out strong and take it home, but the other team came out stronger and hungrier.
The Lions ended up dropping the last three sets with scores of 25-16, 25-21, and 15-9, ending championship hopes, despite winning eight postseason games of the 11 they played.
Although last year’s group of seniors was more experienced than this year’s contingent, many players have stepped up and have played as if they were seasoned veterans. Three juniors, Isabelle Groper, Ariel Kaluzhny, and Siobhan O’Flaherty, stood out as the ones who have gained the most experience.
“Those three kids, if you looked at them at week one you say ‘Ëœwell, whatever,’ and you looked at them the week before the State tournament you’re like ‘Ëœare those the same kids?’ Elwell said.
The team also benefited from the motivated mentality during practices, which has translated into success during games.
“Some of these girls, if you saw them in the hallway, you wouldn’t know they’re competitive because they are kind of quiet and shy and reserved, but when you get them out there and you start keeping score during a drill, they turn into animals, Elwell said. “We’re far more competitive in practice now than we ever were before. If you’re competitive in practice, and you go to a game, you know you’re going to be able to compete.
One important factor in a volleyball team’s success is having club players. Playing club volleyball keeps the players playing for a large part of the year, resulting in more consistent and higher-level play.
One club, Beantown Volleyball, is hosted in the South Fieldhouse, but has been only open to boys in the past. However, the club is now opening for girls, prompting 20 players to sign up in preparation for next season. Elwell believes going from zero to 20 club players will make a very large difference in the success of the team.
“We’re going to be in a whole different era, if that’s possible, for Newton South Volleyball, where kids come in with consistent attack efficiency or consistent serve efficiency, Elwell said. “Now we’ll finally be on an even playing field with [the teams with club volleyball players]. We’re the best non-club team in the state, no doubt about it.
Next year, juniors Tori Bryan, Jackson-Unger, and Michaela O’Flaherty will try to lead the team deep into the postseason, quenching their desires for a trophy.

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