Entire squad returns, shows muscle in pre-season

Published September 6, 2019

MELROSE—The Melrose High School girls’ volleyball team returns to the fall season raring to go and equipped with an entire returning squad that boasts senior talent that may help Melrose remain the last ones standing in Division 2 this November.

Coach Scott Celli, now in his 19th year as head coach, claimed his 12th Middlesex League title last year, and this year he’s setting his sights higher. Just two seasons ago, Melrose clinched their 8th Div. 2 North title and advanced to States, a feat they’re aiming to repeat this season.

“We want to win the state. We have to take the league first, obviously and then the division,” he says. “I think we’re one year older, wiser. And there’s a different feeling on the team. These seniors are playing with natural confidence and are a more relaxed, resilient group. They also know this is their time. That sense of urgency shows on the court and it’s a difference-maker.”

They will be led by returning tri-captains, seniors Emma Randolph, Erin Torpey and Nicole Abbott. No doubt, this trio are just as hungry to return to States, where they competed as sophomores.

THE MELROSE Lady Raider volleyball hope to jump for joy again this season, when they return an entire squad. (file photo)

Randolph finished the season last year with about 300 kills, leading the team.  “Emma is our go-to home run hitter,” says Celli. “She led us in hitting and we’re expecting her to have the same numbers this year.” 

Torpey, meanwhile, is perhaps the team’s most accurate and versatile players. “Erin is one of our best hitters, her consistency is great and she seldom misses. She’s such a solid overall player. She can do it all.” 

Nicole Abbott, meanwhile, put the state on notice after an exceptional season last year that saw her earn All State honors. “Nicole mans our defense, she does everything. She was All State for a reason,” says her coach. 

Having a whole team return, and the addition of four newcomers, makes this season beyond promising. Celli is certainly happy to have his entire defense back, including Abbott in the libero position. Defenders include Mary Kate Mahoney, Marie Maher, Autumn Whelan, along with Torpey and Randolph in the back row. “It’s a real strong nucleus. We have a lot of options. Our defense specials, Mary Kate and Marie, work incredibly hard and do everything we ask. And it’s been nice giving Autumn time back there.”

Perhaps Melrose’s real strength will be their hitting.

“We have a lot of depth here,” Celli says. “A lot of weapons. We have 6-7 reliable hitters.”

Junior Emily Hudson returns in the middle blocker position, and has looked sharp in pre season. “Emily is a solid middle blocker and really well rounded player.” Senior Claire Albuja’s off season work has shown in her early hitting and blocking. “Claire came back really strong this season. We expect good things,” notes Celli. 

Freshman hitter Chloe Gentile has hit the ground running in the middle blocker spot in the early season, with her height being a big advantage. “Chloe brings a huge energy to this team,” says the coach. “She plays year round and works her tail off and right now she is quickly learning varsity ways. She’s gonna be another home run hitter. We’re excited to have her.”

Junior Grace Sanderson is also showing promise in the early season. “This is a player who can put the ball away,” says her coach. “We’re happy to have her.”

On the outside, look for playmakers Grace Davis, Leah Heafey and Sofia Centrella to pack some punch. Says the coach, “Grace displays wonderful energy and brings leadership to the court. And Sofia and Leah again look promising on the outside.”

Keep your eye on Elena Soukous, a year-round player with a mighty swing. “She’s going to be a big-time hitter for us,” says the coach.

One problem Melrose won’t have is setting options and servers. Says Celli, “We have three quality setters. This puts us in a good position.” Those setters include Eva Haralabatos, Caroline (“Kiki”) Kiernan and Autumn Whelan. Fans will enjoy watching serves from Abbott, Heafey, Kiernan, Centrella and Torpey, among others.  

Pre-season play for Melrose has been promising. The Lady Raiders enjoyed a victorious scrimmage over historically-tough Central Catholic last week and swept the day at the Medway Playday on Saturday, which included a lineup of Div. 1 teams, including reigning state champ Newton North. It was certainly a statement day for Melrose.

“It’s early,” notes Celli. “But this was certainly a confidence builder and an impressive showing, and I think it an indicator of good things ahead.”

Not long ago, Melrose made mincemeat of the Middlesex League every season. Recently, the league has caught up. (A good thing for the sport statewide.) Celli confirms the competition has tightened. “The quality for the Middlesex League, particularly in the large division, is so good. There are no days off. ”

Melrose started their season this Thursday on the road against Arlington (post-deadline) but their home opener is on the horizon. They host the Woburn Tanners at home on Tuesday at 5:15 at the Melrose Middle School gym.  Let the games begin.