WINCHESTER — For each of the last four years, the Winchester High girls’ volleyball team has hit this point in the season, ready for a big game against a big rival — and for the last four years, the matchup has also helped a good cause.
Coach John Fleming, and the Winchester High volleyball community hold the annual Serve for the Cure Breast Cancer Awareness matchup. The latest contest takes place Friday night at the high school gym against traditional rival Woburn at 7 p.m.
“I think it’s a game that everyone looks forward to — the entire program,” Fleming said after his team’s annual alumni game on Monday.
“We have fans come and support us that don’t even have a connection to volleyball, necessarily. It adds to the buzz of the game.”
As a first-year coach in 2010, Fleming, noting that other programs and communities had created cancer awareness contests, knew that he wanted his team to have the opportunity to give back.
‘Breast cancer is affecting everyone: parents, friends, family. Unfortunately, everyone has been touched by it at some point and with enough awareness, hopefully it’s something that we can get rid of.’
“We pieced together the idea of doing something for the community, and it was an obvious choice being Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Fleming said.
“What’s happening is breast cancer is affecting everyone: parents, friends, family. Unfortunately, everyone has been touched by it at some point and with enough awareness, hopefully it’s something that we can get rid of.”
In 2010 and 2011, the team raised funds for the nation’s largest and most well-known breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, accumulating $4,200 over the two seasons. Starting last year, the team decided to focus on a local organization, the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center, and raised $3,300.
In the process, what started solely as a cancer awareness contest has developed into one of the league schedule highlights. This was evident for Winchester from the start in 2010, as the team’s victory over Lexington was a must-win to enter the MIAA tournament.
Tomorrow’s matchup against Woburn is perfect timing again, as the Sachems, who entered Wednesday’s contest at Arlington at 12-2, are having their most consistent season in years. The magic number for securing an opening-round MIAA tournament home game has historically been 14 or 15 wins, and after three straight years of either first- or second-round exits, the Sachems are entering the stretch run with renewed confidence.
“What I really like about the team this year is that we don’t just have one girl that’s clearly the star player,” said cocaptain Sara Fontana, a middle hitter.
“We’re comfortable with whoever gets the ball.”
As do most teams in the Middlesex League, as well as all of Division 2 statewide, the Sachems compare themselves with powerhouse Melrose, last year’s Division 2 champion and an annual favorite. The matchup was particularly tough in this season’s opener, as Winchester hosted Melrose and lost, 3-0. However, having had the chance to play the Red Raiders early could prove very useful, according to Winchester cocaptain Rachael Smith.
“Playing them in the first game, you just think, ‘Oh my god, Melrose,’ ” said Smith, the team’s setter. “But if we push past that now, we’ll be better. We want a home game in the tournament this year and we’re confident in every single player.”
The team showed signs of its steady development on Oct. 7 in Burlington. Trailing, 2-1, after winning the first set, the Sachems rallied on the road for a 3-2 victory.
“We got beat pretty handily in third set (25-15),” Fleming said. “To be able to come back, away at Burlington, rebounding in the middle of the match, will go a long way toward pulling us together as a team.”
With just four regular-season games remaining after Friday’s matchup, Fleming & Co. are hoping that tenacity lasts the rest of the way.
The Sachems will again donate all of the contest’s proceeds to Winchester Hospital. Friday’s events begin at 5:15 p.m. with the varsity game at 7 p.m. Suggested admission is $5, with a commemorative T-shirt and refreshments available.
Jeff Powalisz can be reached at jcpowalisz at yahoo.com.