By DAN PAWLOWSKI
BILLERICA — Standing under the bright lights of the Billerica High Gymnasium for the Div. 3 state semifinals on Nov. 14, the Wakefield High volleyball team had already made history.
Wakefield’s first Final Four appearance in program history came after a phenomenal run through the bracket including wins over Norton, Newburyport and Norwell.
Although the 7th-ranked Warriors would end up falling just short of the Finals after a 3-1 decision to No. 3 Weston (the eventual Div. 3 champs) they proved they could compete with the very best in the state – a fact that will only continue to push the team to new heights.
“I am so proud of the girls for making it to the Final Four,” said head coach Kayla Wyland. “For many of them, that was one of, if not, the biggest moment of their lives. Seeing them take pride in their accomplishments was truly the best feeling as a coach.
“Although it was not the outcome we wanted, that experience – gaining the intense feeling of being on the Final Four stage – will help us grow in the future as a program.”
That intensity was present from start to finish, thanks to an electric atmosphere and all-out effort, a mantra the Warriors lived by in every game and every practice this season.
Weston won a close, back-and-forth 1st set, 25-21, their 10th straight set win in the state tournament after 3-0 sweeps in their previous three matches.
That daunting stat never got to Wakefield, who responded in the 2nd, closing on a 14-7 run to claim a 25-18 victory and even things up at 1-1.
Senior captains Savannah Cummings (9 kills) and Lea Carangelo (4 kills, 4 aces, 27 assists) had multiple kills early on to set the tone and help Wakefield pull even before the Wildcats could run away with it. Two Carangelo aces really got the Warrior fans into it, helping tilt the court until a Weston timeout was called with Wakefield up 11-8.
After Weston responded well, Wakefield stuck with it, playing solid defense and getting multiple big hits from the likes of sophomores Lila Arkinstall (8 kills) and Mia Kenny (6 kills, 2 aces, 18 digs, 24 receptions).
Senior captain Maddie Keohane (2 aces, 24 digs, 31 receptions) added an ace along with an incredible one-handed dig to keep a rally alive late in the set before junior Sophia Anderson (22 digs, 9 receptions) ended it with an ace of her own.
The two teams continued to battle in an even 3rd set that featured 9 ties. Keohane had a run of four points from the service line to help Wakefield even things up at 11, a trend that only continued through a roller-coaster frame.
Senior Emily Herson’s first kill tied it at 15 before an Arkinstall block and Carangelo ace later evened it up at 17. A cross-court kill from junior Brooklyn Calder (13 digs, 16 receptions) put Wakefield up 19-17 but a 3-0 Weston run forced a timeout from Wyland. An Arkinstall kill and later a win at the net by Kenny put Wakefield up 22-20 but the Wildcats proved their championship mettle by going on a 5-0 run to end the set, 25-22.
The Warriors never rallied from that tough ending to the 3rd although they continued to fight in the 4th set. Weston closed strong, especially outside hitter, junior Fielding Mayhugh, who was all over the court for her team, picking up 6 of her 14 kills in the final set that the Wildcats would win, 25-19.
Even though moral victories are hard to remember at states, it’s worth noting that Wakefield dealt Weston their only set loss of the tournament. The Wildcats went on to beat No. 1 Medfield 3-0 in the finals.
In the end, Wakefield certainly made their fans proud, finishing with an overall mark of 16-8, a new record number of wins to add to their season of milestones.
The Warriors, and especially seniors Carangelo, Cummings, Keohane, Herson and Meredith Morris, have built an impressive foundation for Wakefield volleyball to build on.
“The five seniors created such a positive path for next year’s team to follow,” said Wyland. “I am so grateful and honored to have gotten to coach them.”
That foundation started with a total commitment to the team, something that was reflected by all the Warriors, especially the ones who sacrificed playing time for the betterment of the group.
“Every single person’s role was crucial,” said Wyland. “The competitiveness of each practice was unmatched like any other year. Our game preparedness is a reflection of our practices. If we push ourselves to the limit at practices with each other, we will feel prepared and the games will feel easier. That’s a huge testament to everyone on the team.”