Published November 13, 2019


TEWKSBURY — The LHS volleyball team continued their incredible 2019 season with another strong run in the Div. 2 North tournament. The Pioneers beat Tewksbury 3-2 in a very close quarterfinal match on Nov. 5. They went on to sweep Melrose in the semifinals on Nov. 7 but ultimately fell to an undefeated Danvers team in the North Final on Saturday. 

Comes back to beat Tewksbury

The Pioneers probably knew they wouldn’t win every set in 2019, so entering their quarterfinal matchup against a tough Tewksbury team at LHS, they prepared for a battle.

Tewksbury snapped Lynnfield’s 64-straight set run as the visitors won the second set to even up the match at 1-1.

Then Tewksbury put the defending D2 North champs on the ropes by taking set three.

Lynnfield’s response was swift, taking the fourth set 25-20 before winning the fifth set 15-10.

Morelli pulled the Pioneers out of trouble in the first set, a kill breaking a 20-20 tie and later sending a missile to the Tewksbury side that got the crowd going for a 23-20 lead. Lynnfield eventually won 25-22.

The second set was very competitive but Tewksbury, behind some strong kills from outside hitter Allie Wild, eventually broke Lynnfield’s historic set run with a 26-24 victory.

Tewksbury built off that and took home the quickest set of the night, 25-18 in the third.

Staring down a 2-1 deficit, Lynnfield needed to respond in a big way.

ELLA GIZMUNT sparked a six-point rally to help the Pioneers get back in the third set during the Div. 2 North Finals. The freshman had a breakout postseason and head coach Brent Ashley (also pictured on bench), is excited about her future. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)

The Pioneers typically like to play in five-point increments as head coach Brent Ashley says. They want to be the first to five, then to 10 and so on.

“We stopped playing that five-set mentality and we just kind of cruised and thought ‘oh we will come back,’” said Ashley. “I was more mad at myself because I needed to step back from the game a little bit and actually coach. Most of the time I’m a cheerleader but finally I realized I had to pull off the double block and put the middle in transition to take away Allie Wild. I also had to make a couple changes to our hitters and I’m mad at myself that it took me two, three sets to figure it out.”

With plenty of credit given to Tewksbury head coach Allie Luppi who clearly had a sound gameplan and helped her team believe they could upset the Pioneers, coach Ashley’s adjustments finally paid off in the fourth set as the Pioneers were able to slow down Tewksbury’s hitters and took control in the middle of the set.

Ava Buonfiglio battled in the middle to cut a deficit to 11-10 and the Pioneer students started a booming “Let’s go Lynnfield” chant after the Pioneers tied it at 11. Ella Gizmunt helped spark a rally with a couple kills and an ace. Daniella Colarusso had an incredible one-handed dig that initiated the best rally of the game and the Pioneers won it on another Gizmunt kill to win it.

The fifth set was again full of tension. Sam Lebruska had a couple of big kills to help take a 9-6 lead and after a Morelli kill, Gizmunt had three kills to end the set and the first five-set match of the season.

“They were incredible,” said Ashley of Tewksbury. “Our league is kind of unique in that we have three teams who are brand new within the last three years so we don’t get to see teams like this. They’re battle-tested and I think this is was our first real battle test.”

Sweep Melrose in semifinals

The Pioneers took on Melrose in the semifinals at Danvers High on Nov. 7.

Set one was locked in ties of 2-2 and 6-6 thanks to kills from Buonfiglio. Before that, Melrose took a brief 4-2 lead behind a block kill from freshman Chloe Gentile and two kills from senior Emma Randolph. The game was tied at 7-7 with two service points from Morelli. Lynnfield climbed away with kills from Buonfiglio and Morelli. A great service run by Morelli took the game out of Melrose’s hands and an ace by Ashley Pagliuca ended the set.

In the second set, there were ties at 2, 4 and 5 before Morelli hit an ace to give Lynnfield a 6-5 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Gizmunt had a number of kills along with Morelli. Gizmunt also shined at the service line with two service points. Melrose came back to nearly tie it up at 16-14 with a Gentile kill. Melrose’s Eva Haralabotos’ two aces gave Melrose a brief lead of 18-16 but a kill by Mac Schena and an ace by Sam Lebruska tied it 21-21. Morelli and Gizmunt hit two kills and Melrose hit into the net twice to finish 25-23.

“They didn’t’ make it easy,” said Ashley. “Melrose is well coached and always has a history of being in this. I expected Scott to come out and make changes every set which he did. I guess we got lucky to adjust to what he had.”

Melrose took a quick lead of 7-2 in the third set behind hitting from Emily Hudson. Morelli, Buonfiglio and Gizmunt tied it up 11-11. Gizmunt hit another kill and a service point to take a 17-13 lead. Sofia Ciriello hit an ace to keep it 18-14. More kills from Morelli gave Lynnfield a lead of 24-17 but Melrose crawled back on a service run from Autum Whelan to make it 24-22. Melrose misfired on a shot and Lynnfield took the set 25-22.

Overall, Morelli was a force on service and attacking with well-placed kills.

“She’s a special player who takes care of this team when we need her,” said Ashley of Morelli.

Melrose’s tough front row blocking and height challenged the Pioneers who faced deficits and was forced to rely on soft shots and spotted balls in Melrose’s back corners. Serving was a particular strength for Lynnfield and freshman Gizmunt continued her breakthrough postseason performances with 12 kills, five digs and three aces.

“Ella has grown so much ,” Ashley said. “I think she surprised [Melrose] tonight.”

Fall to Danvers 3-0

The Pioneers traveled to Tewksbury on Saturday to meet a familiar face in a battle of the undisputed top two teams in Div. 2 North.

Both teams entered the game with identical 23-0 records. 

Danvers, coached by former Lynnfield JV coach George Lavasseur, ended up hitting a stride that Lynnfield couldn’t match, winning in three sets, 25-23, 25-16 and 25-21. 

The Falcons made an early statement in this one, winning the first seven points of the set. 

Despite trailing 14-5 at one point, Lynnfield fought back and evened it up at 20 thanks in part to strong work from Lebruska including two clutch kills.

Pagliuca had a diving dig to help spring the Pioneers to 22-21 but Danvers closed strong.

The second set was all Falcons as they more or less ran away with the 25-16 win.

Lynnfield fought back in the third despite going down 19-12 at one point.

Gizmunt sparked a rally from the service line bringing the Pioneers all the way back to 21-19. 

“Ella is going to be fantastic next year,” said Ashley. “Having the composure to go on that rally in the third set as a freshman is incredible. She’s going to be a powerful force for us in the future.”

Danvers closed on a 4-2 run to win it 25-21.

In the end, it was a difficult way to end what was easily one of the most historic in Lynnfield volleyball season. 

The seniors are too competitive to realize this now, but soon they will be able to reflect on an incredible four-year run in which the varsity went 82-13. 

Historic numbers aside, Sofia Ciriello, Ashely Pagliuca, Sam Lebruska, Sophia Wilkinson, Mac Schena and Melissa Morelli will be remembered as good people and a group that will always mean a lot to Lynnfield volleyball.

“I absolutely love my seniors,” said Ashley. “They’re such a special group. Having them since they were freshmen, Michelle Perrone retired two years ago and I took over hoping that they would accept me in and they didn’t even question it from day one it was just like “cool, let’s go.” They’re so loving, caring and passionate that every single moment in practice or while we were competing, there’s no unmeasurable amount of fun I’ve had while coaching and hanging out with them.

“I never cry on senior night and this year I started to tear up. They just don’t compare to any other group.”

The Pioneers will certainly have some big shoes to fill next year, but coach Ashley is confident they will have the skillset to reload and the mindset to help keep the program at the top of Div. 2 North.

“We have some great players who are going to be with us next year, including Ella. We have some youth coming up, a lot of skill in the freshman class and we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a lot of re-learning, re-training and re-culture. I don’t think I’m worried about the players not being there. It’s just going to be tough rebuilding the culture that these seniors had forever. The level of volleyball will be there and I’m hopeful that identity comes quickly after.”

— Melrose sports editor Jen Gentile contributed to this story.