Melrose puts stake in league title with Burlington win
Update post publication:
Melrose defeats Frontier 3-2 improving to 7-1 on the season.
By JENNIFER GENTILE
MELROSE—In terms of tests, this was a big one.
The Melrose and Burlington volleyball teams have always had a competitive rivalry, and often, it’s each other that they must go through to win ML Freedom titles. Tuesday, Sept. 26 was no exception. Melrose traveled to Red Devil territory to take on Burlington (6-2), who was unbeaten in the league going into the game, and Melrose drove off with a 3-1 win in sets of 19-25, 25-11, 25-18, 25-23, to improve to 5-1 on the season.
It was a monster performance by Melrose sophomore Sabine Wenzel who put her 6’5 frame to use up front and made Burlington hitters pay the price, tallying a massive 20 kills in her best performance to date. She was joined by an equally- ferocious Sadie Jaggers who had 15 kills. Together, they helped Melrose overcome a first set loss and sweep Burlington in the next three sets for a 3-1 final that has Melrose sitting at the top of the ML Freedom league with lots of season to go.
Burlington came into the match on the heels of an opening season record of 5-0, suggesting they’d be fighting for a league title season. And that’s still the case, as the two teams will meet again in a rematch next month. The forecast suggests the two teams will fight to either share or win the league outright.
On Tuesday, Melrose fell in the first set, 25-19, behind some power hitting from Burlington’s Grace Seaman who had 16 kills for the Red Devils.
But Melrose bounced back completely in set two, running off to a 14-9 lead, thanks to hitting from Wenzel and Jaggers. They’d extend that lead to 17-9 before taking the set 25-11, which essentially swung momentum in Melrose’s direction, where it stayed. Melrose also took the next set 25-18 behind more hitting from Jaggers, Wenzel, Manon Marchais, Abby Dennison and middle hitter Sofia Papatsoris (8 kills). Burlington seemed determined to force a fifth set and fought to ties of 14-14 and 21-21 in set 4, making it a gripping, “last points” fight with the teams locked at 23. With a strong Maggie Turner on the service line, and a back row manned by Grace Gentile and Gigi Albuja, Melrose was in control when setter Leah Fowke found middle hitter Wenzel who hit a doozy over the middle to end the game, 25-23.
Coach Scott Celli was thrilled for his team after the win. “I’m really proud of the way the team has jelled. Sabine has really come into her own as a formidable middle hitter/blocker. Overall, I’d say the win over Wakefield last Friday was a step in that direction, but the win today at Burlington sort of solidified it for me.”
Melrose had come off a 3-1 victory over Wakefield at home last Friday evening in a game that saw Sabine Wenzel lead with 12 kills and Manon Marchais with 11. Leah Fowke had a huge 28 assists. Libero Grace Gentile combined for 41 digs and serve receipts.
Hot off that win, Melrose looked to take another bite in the ML Freedom when they played Tuesday. No doubt a loss against Burlington would have Melrose on the ropes in a quest for a league title. Celli spoke of how important it was to get this win against Burlington in first. “Winning today was crucial for that reason,” he said. “Burlington proved to be everything that I thought that they would be: a great outside hitter, solid setter, really resilient. They presented problems for our blockers early in the match and were a tough-serving team. We adjusted as the match went on and were able to make some really good plays on their serves and attacks. By beating them now, it does give us the upper hand, but we know that they will be coming for us when they visit Melrose later in the season.”
While Melrose has stepped up with offensive gusto now 6 games into the season, it is defense that is proving to be the foundation for their victories. Says Celli, “Our defense in the back row sets everything up for us. Grace, Sadie, Maggie, and Gigi have done a great job of doing just that.”
The consistent setting of Leah Fowke has made a tremendous difference. “The play of Leah Fowke has been outstanding as well.” He also notes the pleasant surprises from the play of Sofia Papatsoris and Abby Dennison. “Both have given the team depth and production from the middle and right side.”
Melrose has a tough opponent coming to town on Saturday. Each year they take on Frontier (6-2), last year’s State Champ in Div. 5, and on Saturday, Frontier travels to Melrose for what is sure to be a hard-fought game at 3:00 p.m. at the MVMMS gym.
While the win over Burlington was satisfying, competition such as Frontier will force the team to sharpen their game even more. That means staying clean, especially on the service line. Says Celli, “We need to really focus on being better behind the service line. Consistent and aggressive serving will be key to competing against the top teams.”