Historic first for Melrose; spikers take out Div. 1 powerhouse, 3-1

IT WAS a historic win for the Melrose Lady Raider volleyball team who beat Newton North for the first time on September 11, 3-1. (Donna Larsson photo) 

IT WAS a historic win for the Melrose Lady Raider volleyball team who beat Newton North for the first time on September 11, 3-1. (Donna Larsson photo)

MELROSE — It was the first challenge of the season and now nothing but mission completed for the 4-0 Melrose Red Raider volleyball team, who enjoyed a historic first ever win against perennial powerhouse Newton North on Thursday, September 11 at the Melrose Middle School gym. The Lady Raiders slew the Tigers, 3-1, in sets of 25-23, 25-15, 23-25 and 25-23. Melrose’s Allie Nolan posted 33 assists and a game winning kill while Hannah Mulcahey led in offense with 12 kills.

Melrose has competed against the Div. 1 juggernaut for many years during their regular season and has fallen just shy of victory against the Tigers, frequent visitors to Division 1 state finals.

“It’s always very satisfying to beat a strong, quality team like Newton North who has such a great coach,” said a respectful Melrose coach Scott Celli. “Rick Barton is a legend in volleyball across the state.”

After the game Barton was overheard informing Celli that Melrose “had too much offense tonight.” Indeed they did. Melrose came at the Tigers from every side of the court with powerful attacking from Mulcahey, sophomore captain Victoria Crovo, senior captain Meri Lessing and junior Marisa Cataldo. Add some well-plotted kills from senior captain Allie Nolan and the result was a Melrose team that had Newton North off balance all night.

In the first set Melrose took small leads of 3-2 and 8-6 behind kills from Mulcahey and Crovo, tying the game at 9 then taking an 11-10 edge thanks to points from Cat Torpey and Mulcahey. Strong serving in the first from Stephanie Crovo helped Melrose creep to a 16-12 lead before Newton tied things up at 20-20. Melrose capitalized on Tiger fouls side while Allie Nolan and Marisa Cataldo launched kills that gave Melrose a decisive 23-22 edge. Newton North hit a service error to end the set and give Melrose the all-important first set win.

By the beginning of set two it was apparent to the well-attended crowd that Melrose was emerging as the stronger of the two teams. Despite being deadlocked in ties, Melrose emerged with a lead of 10-8 thanks to an ace by Marisa Cataldo and kill from Meri Lessing. Hannah Mulcahey gave Melrose a deeper edge at 12-8 with back to back kills. Lessing and Cataldo’s attacks helped lift Melrose to leads of 17-13 and 22-15 and an eventual 25-15 set win.

The Lady Raiders could have put it away in the third but the Tigers scraped through with a 25-23 set win that forced a fourth set. Melrose rebounded quickly, running out to a lead of 10-2 before Newton North closed the gap at 22-20. Thanks to four kills from Hannah Mulcahey and a perfectly placed tap from Allie Nolan, Melrose took the set win 25-23 that guaranteed game victory.

Coach Celli credited his senior captain Allie Nolan for her workman-like performance. “Allie was outstanding, she’s a smart player and our leader on the team. Her passing was phenomenal.”

Libero Amanda Cain was nearly flawless in her role of defense. “She was exceptional on defense with at least 100 passes.” Kaitlyn MacInnes also held the fort on defense for Melrose in critical game moments. Hitters Meri Lessing and Hannah Mulcahey impressed their coach on attack. “Hannah did great. When she is on she is tough to beat,” while Lessing was “relentless at the net,” said Celli.

Beating Newton North clearly increases this team’s odds of a successful post season run. But when asked whether this was a “statement game,” coach Celli replied carefully. “In many ways it doesn’t matter who we beat, if we do what we’re set out to do, we can beat anyone.”

Thanks to their win, Melrose has catapulted toward the top in polls, with the Boston Globe currently ranking them #6 in the state. But for Celli, it’s important the Lady Raiders stay grounded with such a long schedule ahead, lest the win get to their heads. “We need to stay level headed and not overlook our opponents,” he said.

Melrose will begin a series of games against Freedom League opponents before they face another stiff challenge down the road: #2 ranked Notre Dame of Hingham, where they will travel on September 26. First they will need to get past their next opponent, Stoneham, whom they host this Friday night at 5:30 at the middle school gym.