MELROSE – From 2010-'19, the Melrose High School girls' volleyball team had a combined regular season record of 181-27. They made ten straight state tournament appearances, winning the Division 2 state championship in 2012, losing in the state final once, in the state semi-finals another time and twice in the North Sectionals.
Their Monday night opponent, Wilmington, has 96 wins dating back to 2004, which was the last time the program made the state tournament. So when the two teams met during this Fall-2 season league game – and without Wilmington's best player – certainly the heavy odds were in Melrose's corner.
Certainly those odds were too heavy to overcome as Melrose swept the 'Cats by scores of 25-8, 25-8 and 25-6.
“(Melrose's dominance) dates back to when I was in high school. We played them in the Division 2 North sectional quarterfinals and I'll never forget the feeling of beating them. And that was quite some time ago,” said Wildcat first-year head coach Lauren Donoghue with a laugh.
Heading into this season, the 'Cats had basically a brand new team, playing a brand new system, under the direction of a brand new coach. Add to that, not being able to practice everyday, playing once a week, having a roster full of inexperienced players, all the while not having much height for net play, and of that thrown together are just some of the reasons why the 'Cats are 0-5 on the season.
“We were defending a lot but they are just really strong at the net. Blocking wise they are smart and their hits were really strong and consistent,” said Donoghue. “There's really not a lot that I can say that we did poorly as far as serve-receive. I mean there were a couple of serving runs that happened and that's kind of expected, but a couple of our girls had aces. It went back-and-forth in terms of serving, but (out struggles) were mostly because of our lack of aggression at the net and our lack of strength offensively.”
One aspect that Donoghue said she hopes will improve upon immediately is communication on the floor.
“I think the girls genuinely played well together, but there's a lot that needs to be worked on in terms of communication,” she said. “That was definitely one of our weaknesses tonight, lack of communication on the court. I think a big part of that is we have just two seniors, we have a lot of new players and the chemistry is understandably not there. It takes time to form, but the fact that they can't do normal team dinner things and we're not practicing everyday and those types of things definitely build up on that. We have six new players on the team so it's taken some time to gel people's strengths together, too.”
On Saturday, Wilmington was swept by Wakefield with scores of 25-14, 25-7 and 25-13.
“I was expecting us to push them to at least a fourth set. I think we are two evenly matched teams. They have a very skilled and smart setter and I think we got burned in certain situations at the net,” said Donoghue. “Again it comes back to the lack of blocks and some of our hitters being intimidated by being blocked once and not being willing to take that chance again. That comes with experience and it also comes with that boost of confidence that you need with the more experience you get.”
Haeleigh Wilson played well on Monday, and Alyssa Fricia and Lauren Hutchinson continue to play well on the defensive side.
“Lauren and Alyssa are both doing a really good job defending. I can't say enough about them because they have both saved us in a number of different situations,” said Donoghue.
Wilmington will have a rematch with Melrose on Saturday before coming home to face Watertown on Tuesday starting at 7 pm.