THE DIV. 2 STATE Semifinalist MHS volleyball team returns this week after a terrific 21-2 season last year.
Melrose is back one year after State Semi run
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE—It was another epic season for the hard-to-beat Melrose High volleyball team who return as Sectional champs this fall after a remarkable 21-2 regular season in 2021 and a Div. 2 State Semifinal appearance last November.
After bringing home the sectional trophy, Melrose fell to unbeaten Westboro in State Semifinals. This season Melrose faces Westboro later in the regular season when they’ll seek revenge. Fortunately, they have plenty of weapons to help them do it. Melrose returns five starters (9 returning players), including three captains, Chloe Gentile, Gia Vlajkovic and Sadie Jaggers, who’ve already helped Melrose enjoy a successful preseason.
If there is a General of the team, that would be Gentile, an All-Star whose been a starting middle hitter and captain since she was a 14-year-old freshman (well before COVID-19). Now finally a senior, she’s the leading scorer in the Middlesex Freedom League entering the fall with 375 kills. Gentile recently committed to play volleyball at Trinity College in the Fall of 2023, following in the footsteps of MHS volleyball legend Hannah Brickley. In her three full seasons with the team, Gentile’s Melrose team has enjoyed a combined win loss record of 52-8 statewide and 39-3 in the Middlesex League. So, expect nothing but a winning edge to her efforts.
Melrose head coach Scott Celli lauds his captain in her final season. “Chloe’s been amazing and gives us everything. Her ability to put away the ball but also play defensively is special. She’s really been through the war with us for four years. Chloe’s simply a game changer that never lets us down.”
Having an impressive early season is fellow senior captain Gia Vlajkovic, a multi-dimensional player who can both hit and set. Both will be needed this season as Melrose looks to fill in for the graduating All State star Elena Soukos. Vlajkovic’s jumping ability and power hitting will put Melrose in an instant advantage as they aim to capture a league title and them some. “We’re going to ask Gia to do a lot for us,” says coach Celli. “And she will come through.”
Returning middle hitter Sadie Jaggers brings solid volleyball IQ, great timing and a powerful block that makes her hard to beat up front. Says her coach, “She’s a great blocker and compliments Chloe in the middle position. Excellent hitter too.”
Also returning are defensive specialists Grace Gentile, sibling to Chloe, and DS/Setter Emma Desmond, along with DS/Hitter senior Ava McSorley and Gigi Albuja. Additional hitting will come from Anna Shoemaker and Leah Fowke and new players Manon Marchais and Caroline Higonenq who’ve all impressed in early season efforts. Watch out for setter Ruth Breen who will be a key component in Melrose’s new 6×2 offense that utilizes two setters. “Ruth has come so far and has a great pair of hands,” says Celli. “She’s been fabulous.”
After their pre-season games against Lynnfield and Methuen (both wins) and a 4-1 showing at the weekend jamboree hosted by Melrose, Celli liked what he saw, pointing to their defense as essential to wins. “I thought Emma and Grace did a fantastic job of keeping the ball off the ground. Our passing was good and really set the tone.”
“Coming off last year, we have a target on our backs,” Celli continues. “But we often do because when people play us, we get everyone’s best shot. That means we can’t afford slip ups.”
Starting out of the gate against very strong teams like Peabody and Woburn, and later battling teams who reached states last year—Newton North, Westboro and Frontier—means the degree of difficulty is rather off the charts, just the way Celli likes it. He loves the depth of this Melrose team yet is focusing on things to fix as they wrap up pre-season. “We tend to start slow and that can’t continue. The Middlesex League might be the best it’s ever been. And our slow beginnings could hurt us.”
As ever, the goal remains familiar. “Our goal goes beyond a league and Sectional title,” he says. It’s the same goal every year. States.”