20-2 Melrose hosts opening round; take #1 seed in D2 North
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE — The Melrose Lady Raider volleyball team enter playoffs as the #1 seed in the Div. 2 North with a 20-2 record and undefeated 16-0 record in the Middlesex League. Melrose looks to advance to to their 12th straight Div. 2 North appearance and that journey starts when they host the first round of playoffs at the Melrose Middle School gym this Saturday, Nov. 1 when they take on the winner of the Burlington/Greater Lowell game. Game time is at 7:00 p.m.
As Melrose wraps up their regular season they sport rather impressive numbers that reflect their season effort. Ranked #1 in the Div. 2 North, Melrose has several players in the upper portion of the division in categories. Melrose as a team has tallied 771 kills, with 175 of them earned by senior captain Meri Lessing, 152 from junior Hannah Mulcahey,141 from sophomore Victoria Crovo and 111 from junior Marisa Cataldo. Lessing is 10th in Div. 2 in attack and all the aforementioned hitters sit among the top seven spots in the Middlesex League.
Senior captain Allie Nolan has 475 assists on the season as setter, sixth in Div. 2 and best in the league. Senior Amanda Cain leads the league in digs with 331, good enough for third in Div. 2. As team Melrose currently serves with 93 percent accuracy.
On Monday, the Lady Raiders celebrated Senior Night, a chance to recognize their seniors: Amanda Cain, Ashley Harding, Stephanie Crovo, Meri Lessing, Allie Nolan, scorer Meg Tryder. After festivities Melrose finished their regular season with a finale against a mega-strong Westboro and fell 3-1 to the Rangers for just their second loss of the year. Melrose struggled against an unstoppable hitter in Gianna Scioletti, a 6’3″ attacker who hammered Melrose with 21 kills in both front and back row attack during the 25-14, 25-23, 22-25, and 25-23 games.
Melrose senior libero Amanda Cain more than held her own during the game, having to fend off the amped up velocity of Scioletti and teammate Kaylie Doherty (14 kills). While Cain responded with many impressive digs, Melrose defense overall struggled and Westboro targeted too many holes on the floor, keeping Lady Raider defense off balance.
In the first set Melrose fell to a deficit of 6-2 before they evened the game at 8 with kills from senior captain Meri Lessing and an ace from Stephanie Crovo, who continues her strong year at the service line. But overall Melrose had an uncharacteristic four service kills in the set, hindering their ability to match the Rangers. Melrose put up a harder fight in set 2, taking a lead of 6-5 after three straight kills from Victoria Crovo, who had one of her more impressive games – spiking past Westboro’s impressive front row. Allie Nolan’s well placed kills helped Melrose take leads of 9-7 and 10-11. Marisa Cataldo chipped in with a few nice kills but overall Melrose fell victim to Scioletti, who helped Westboro take the 25-23 win. Melrose prevented a sweep in the third set taking a 5-0 lead thanks to solid serving from Cataldo, and Victoria Crovo helped Melrose remain 9-8 after two back-to-back kills. Kills from Lessing, Hannah Mulcahey, Nolan and Cataldo gave Melrose the definitive edge at 25-22. Set four was a true nail biter and Melrose seemed primed for a winner-takes-all fifth set after fighting back from a 3-7 deficit to a 10-10 tie thanks to kills from Lessing and block kills from Mulcahey. Victoria Crovo’s back-to- back kills helped Melrose remain locked at 18-18, while Lessing gave Melrose a 21-20 edge, giving the well attended arena hope for a fifth and final 15 point set. But Melrose fell to service error and watched the Westboro hitters take away any chance for that redemptive fifth tilt with a 25-23 loss. Overall in the night Lessing had 13 kills for Melrose and Victoria Crovo 12.
After the game, Scott Celli spoke upon the importance of prepping the team against the best on the eve of postseason. “We didn’t play with intensity in the first set and I think it carried over to the second. Westboro played very well and were a little more aggressive then we were. We need to be better, but this game doesn’t mean that much to us as a non-league game. We’ll need to be better in tournament.”
According to senior captain Allie Nolan, one of the few remaining members of the 2012 State Championship team, it’s important for each player to compete in every game like it’s the last. “We hope to teach younger players to really dig deep during every point of every set every match, and play each one like it’s the last – because this far into the season you never know when it could be.”
Senior captain Meri Lessing was a promising attacker her sophomore year studying under (arguably) the best hitting team Melrose had in 2012. Lessing has learned a lot and has a lot to teach. Right now she expects the team to adopt a fierce attitude toward winning. “Being a part of the team who were state champs in 2012 was an amazing experience. Even though I wasn’t in the game, being on the bench was just as exciting. For us to be successful in the playoffs this year we need to continue getting stronger as a team every day. It’s very critical for us to have the mentality of all or nothing.”
That was a sentiment that coach Celli echoed upon. In 2012 Melrose won the state title just two weeks after losing to Newton North on Senior Night. “This [loss tonight] could be a motivation for us and we can adopt a refuse-to-lose outlook after this like they did,” he said.
One thing is for sure, their senior captains have more playoff experience than most high schoolers, making them the right people to guide the team on their journey. “This season has meant a lot to me personally,” says Nolan. “It’s my last year playing for Melrose High School and it would mean so much to me to be able to win States during my final year.”
Lessing agrees. “This season has been amazing. We have worked really hard and we’re not giving up without a fight. I think it’s important to stay focused on our goal, have fun and enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve gotten tons of support from my friends and family and grew really close to my team. I wouldn’t wish to end my senior year with any other team then the one I have right now.”
“Winning States is obviously the goal and I think this is the perfect group to achieve it,” she concludes.
Should Melrose advance on Saturday they will host another game at the Melrose Middle School gym on Monday, Nov. 3 and semi finals on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Division 2 North finals are scheduled the weekend of Nov. 8-9. If forecasts stand correct that may send Melrose on a collision course with Arlington Catholic, who falls on the other side of the bracket and were narrowly edged by Melrose last week. See full bracket in this sport section.
Fans are encouraged to visit www.miaa.net for any up to date tournament information.