TEWKSBURY — The Tewksbury High girls’ volleyball team had an interesting start to the season, one where the Redmen came away with one win and one loss, but it was, ironically, in defeat where they showed just how good they might be this season.
After a long wait to start the preseason, thanks to a bye week to start the regular season, Tewksbury finally got underway on Friday at North Andover.
The Merrimack Valley Conference power took the first two sets and appeared on its way to another routine victory on its home court. Instead the Redmen finally kicked in to gear, winning the next two sets with a fantastic display of grittiness on defense, and an array of shotmaking on the attack.
The momentum carried into the pivotal fifth set before Tewksbury finally began showing signs of being fatigued. The Redmen kept right on battling to the end when the Scarlet Knights won the last three points to take the match, 25-21, 25-20, 21-25, 23-25, 15-12.
“I could see the nerves in the first two sets and then we settled in and finally started playing our game,” said Tewksbury coach Allie Luppi. “We turned it around, which was awesome. I had people stepping up, people who didn’t think they were going to get in the game, and they did their job and did a great job.”
The surprise star of the game was senior middle hitter Lizzy Taggart, who had a career-best 16 kills, second only to top player, senior co-captain Alli Wild, who had 20.
“Lizzy absolutely lit it up,” said Luppi. “She played great and she even said to me, ‘I think that was the best game I ever played in my life.’ It definitely was, she was phenomenal.”
Wild had the powerful kills, and each one sent a message the Redmen were on a roll and were going to be tough to stop.
In addition to Wild and Taggart, Tewksbury got points at the net from middle hitter Kylie Tibbets (four kills), and seniors Emma Demos and Becca DeFrancesco off the bench.
“I had a conversation with my middles about how you may not be the biggest, most intimidating middles, but hit your spots and you’re going to get your points,” said Luppi. “That’s what they did (Friday).”
Senior setter Alexa Harrington was already in mid-season form, racking up 40 assists, while freshman libero Carinna Barron had 23 digs and senior co-captain Emily Butler had 16 digs.
When it was 12-12, in the final set, the teams were engaged in an intense rally. Wild saw an opening and went for a slicing shot along the net, only to have it hit into the net instead. It did not work this time but the coach like Wild’s thought process — a lot.
“We win games by being aggressive,” said Luppi. “Sometimes what happens when it’s a close match and it’s towards the end, we back off and get timid, and you don’t win that way. I’m totally fine with them trying to hit spots, being aggressive and going for it.”
The Redmen came home and beat Methuen, 3-0, in their home opener, Monday evening at Tony Romano Court.
The Rangers were pesky but Tewksbury showed its class in pulling away late in each individual set, 25-18, 25-17, 25-18.
“I think we are getting better,” said Luppi, after the home win. “We still need to jell a bit, and come out playing (in the first set) like the way we did in the third set. It took us two sets to warm up and I am hoping that’s not a trend for us this season. I hope we can turn it on from the get go.”
Alexa Harrington had another great game, with 25 assists. Alli Wild led the Redmen with 14 kills, and she and Lizzy Taggart each had two block assists. Sophomore twins Maddison Cueva and Katie Cueva each had four kills.
Senior co-captain Emily Butler and senior Gianna Bourassa each had three service aces. Butler’s five-point service run in the third set effectively brought the match to an end. Freshman libero Carinna Barron led the Redmen with eight digs.
“Overall I’m happy,” said Luppi. “We have to clean up our serving, next game. It’s not something we typically do. We usually do a good job of serving aggressively and keeping it in, so we just have to get back on track with that.”
The season kicks into full swing this week with matches at Lawrence (Wednesday), and home against Billerica (5:00 pm) on Friday and Haverhill (5:30) on Monday at Tony Romano Court.