TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury High girls’ volleyball are coming off an outstanding season, but the Redmen felt it came to a premature close when they were ousted by eventual Div. 2 North champion Lynnfield in the quarterfinals.
Tewksbury hopes to repeat as Merrimack Valley Conference Small champions, but even more important is advancing to at least the semifinals in this year’s tournament.
The Redmen have five returning players, all of them seniors, and four who are returning starters.
Emily Butler is a second-year captain who will start at either Libero or as defensive specialist, and Alli Wild is a first-year captain but the only fourth-year varsity player. She will be a force as an outside hitter.
The other two returning starters are Lizzy Taggart and Alexa Harrington. Taggart is a middle blocker and Harrington is the team’s top setter. The fifth senior is Kylie Tibbetts, who will rotate in and out with Taggart at middle blocker.
“I think we’re coming out really strong,” said third-year coach Allie Luppi. “We have a good returning group and we are hoping to pick up right where we left off last year.”
Wild returns as a first team All-Conference and Harrington was an MVC Small All-Star as a setter. This combination could be the key to Tewksbury’s overall success this autumn.
“We established a really strong setter-hitter connection, last year,” said Luppi. “We have the same setter, we have similar hitters coming in and so we are hoping that will continue and that we keep moving forward this year.”
Junior Gabriella Schuber-Raimundo will be a new setter and may allow the Redmen to go with the 6-2 look that they used over the first part of last season.
“If the two setters have similar setting styles, then it is easy to run a 6-2,” Luppi said. “It gets tricky if the setters are really different, then the hitters are having to adjust to different sets in the middle. We are still trying to figure that out.”
Tewksbury had its first scrimmage that afternoon and then had play day on Saturday. Schuber-Raimundo and a couple other girls got a good long look, and Luppi was pleased with what she saw.
“There were a few sets where we started off very slow and got down a lot of points,” she said. “We were able to battle back and win those sets, so it was great to see that fire in the girls.
Volleyball is a second sport for Wild, who is also an outstanding center-power forward for the basketball team, but she has developed a strong passion for her fall sport, and the Redmen stand to reap the benefits.
“Alli is coming in super strong,” said Luppi. “Her hitting is phenomenal, she definitely put in a lot of work over the winter to improve her passing and to become a really well-developed all-around player. Same thing with her serve, she has been jump-serving, which is awesome. It is something she has been working towards and she’s getting more consistent with it. I’m super-excited for her.”
When we first spoke with the coach, the Redmen had only practiced and scrimmaged against themselves. Heading into the preseason scrimmages, Luppi was already happy with the attitude of her squad.
“The girls as a group are awesome,” she said. “They do what they are asked, they are on time, they show up, put things away — everything you would want. They’re super friendly and sweet and nice to each other. Overall they are a great group of girls, and Alli and Emily set the tone, they do a great job.”
Luppi says there are plenty of battles going on to determine spots in the lineup. Wild is obviously one outside hitter, while sophomore twins Maddison Cueva and Katie Cueva are battling for playing time as outside hitters, as well. First-year senior Emma Demos is also in the outside hitter mix.
On the right side, first-year senior Becca DeFrancesco is working along with the Cuevas so see which pin they fit best in. The middles are Taggart and Tibbetts, and DeFrancesco may slot in there as well, as needed.
Butler and freshman Carinna Barron are working on the Libero and defensive specialist positions on the back line. Senior Gianna Bourassa is also a defensive specialist.
“We have a lot of players in moving places right now,” said Luppi. “We are figuring out where they best fit the team and how they can be the best they can be.“
Whether they play regularly or not, all the players will have a say on how far this team progresses.
“Everyone is going to have a role, for sure,” said Luppi, when asked if everyone was going to play each game. “That role could be showing up to practice, working incredibly hard and pushing the starters to get better and better, and just being a positive person. That’s something that can’t be undermined as a role on a team, and it takes a very special person who is willing to show up and work very hard and not get all the of playing time.”
There was a lot of key results that went into last year’s success, and even a loss to Haverhill that served as a catalyst for the rest of the regular season. There will certainly be obstacles to overcome again, this year, but Tewksbury has the talent, determination and work ethic to get there.
“We know we can and we know we are good, but we have to remember that you have to work every single day, day in and day out,” said Luppi. “There is never a day where we can just relax and not care. It’s about caring and working hard.”
The Redmen begin their season, Friday evening (5 p.m.) with a road game at North Andover. They then have their home opener, Monday (5:30 p.m.) against Methuen, at Tony Romano Court.