“One dream, one goal.”
This was the mantra for the tightly knit Melrose High girls’ volleyball team all year, said before each practice, before each game.
The dream and goal: To win the state championship.
Last Saturday, they won the Division 2 state title over Longmeadow, 3-1 (25-17, 24-26, 25-19, 25-10) in Northborough to become the first girls’ team in school history to win a state crown.
Not since 1967 had Melrose High won a state championship (in boys’ basketball). This year, the volleyball team was determined to go the distance.
“What a mark in history. I just think the momentum this year was outstanding,” said Pat Ruggiero, Melrose athletic director. “So many times, over the past 10 years, we made it to the sectionals and state semifinals [in volleyball], but fell short.
“This is a great group of girls . . . leaders, on and off the courts, too.”
“They had the determination . . . When I looked at the girls in the huddle, I could tell it in their eyes.”Scott Celli, Melrose girls’ volleyball coach
Ruggiero cited the core athleticism of this year’s team. She noted that Melrose claimed seven of the nine spots on the Middlesex League all-star team, and that two of the three captains, seniors Brooke Bell, and Sarah McGowan, made the Globe All-Scholastic team.
Other members of the team included seniors Amanda Commito (a tricaptain), Jen Cain, Rachel Johnson, Kayla Wyland, and Sydney Doherty; juniors Jill MacInnes, Cassidy Barbaro, Maeve Moriarty, Annalisa DeBari, and Alyssa Abbott; and sophomores Allie Nolan, Stephanie Crovo, Ashley Harding, Meri Lessing, and Amanda Cain.
After a 21-1 regular season to earn the top seed in the North, Melrose won its three sectional matches by 3-0 scores, then blanked Canton in the state semifinals. With the win over Longmeadow, the Red Raiders finished 26-1.
Scott Celli led the coaching effort, assisted by Steve Wall and Andrea Bastieri, who runs the freshman program.
“I’m not trying to be cheesy, but you couldn’t have asked for a better coaching team,” said tricaptain Bell.
Positive attitude was another factor against Longmeadow, the Western Massachusetts champs who came into the state title game with a 19-3 record, Bell said. “We thought, ‘It’s our last game. Why not go all out?’ ”
To celebrate their historic win, Mayor Robert J. Dolan arranged for a police escort to meet the bus at the Stone Zoo in Stoneham for its triumphant return to Melrose. With one police car in front of the bus, another behind, they caravanned slowly down Main Street — flashing blue lights, wailing sirens, honking horns — past all the downtown shops and restaurants, drawing curious onlookers outside. The bus’s interior lights were lit brightly so everyone could see the ecstatic faces of the champions.
Hundreds of fans — parents, friends, students, high school staff — greeted the girls as they got off the bus in the high school parking lot. “Do you know what you girls did? You made history,” Dolan roared. The girls, hugging each other and screaming, sang “We Are the Champions” by Queen at the top of their lungs.
Talking with the tricaptains the Sunday after their historic win, their adrenaline was still palpable.
“After the first practice this year,” McGowan recalled, “our coach, Mr. Celli, said, ‘I can feel it. This is the year. We have seven seniors. You know what it was like to get there. You know what it felt like to lose.’ ”
Celli said he came up with the team’s saying, “One dream, one goal,” to remind the girls of what they wanted to accomplish this season.
The secret to the win wasn’t any one thing, Celli said.
“It was the whole season,” said Celli, a Stoneham resident who teaches calculus and geometry at Melrose High and also started the popular volleyball camps, which he runs in the summer, a feeder program for the school teams.
“Since last November, with last season’s loss [in the state tournament], the girls made a yearlong commitment,” Celli said. “They had the determination that this was the year. When I looked at the girls in the huddle, I could tell it in their eyes.”
Bell said, “Last time, we were just happy to get there. This time, we remembered that feeling of loss. We never wanted to go through that again. We were hungrier this year.”
Wall, a Woburn resident who has been working with Celli and the team since 2002, pointed to the girls’ ability to rebound faster, when they lost game 2 to Longmeadow, as a key to their winning the title this year.
“We have a senior-driven team,” Wall said. “A lot of them had played in those big games before.”
Returning to school, the girls are still trying to soak in the reality of the win. They are planning on cheering on the boys’ football team in the annual Thanksgiving Day game, being played at Wakefield.
“It still hasn’t hit us,” McGowan said. “We did it for the city, our friends, our family.
“Thirty years from now, we’ll be able to say, ‘I was a part of that.’ ”