Victoria Crovo was in the stands at Algonquin Regional last fal, as a spectator, watching the Melrose High girls’ volleyball team capture the Division 2 state title, the first championship in program history. From that point forward, she was itching to get out on the court and play, despite having never before played on a volleyball team in her life.
Now, as a freshman middle hitter, she has stepped into a starting role and has been a key offensive catalyst for the 15-1 Raiders. “It was kind of unexpected,” said the 5-foot-9 Crovo, of landing a spot in the starting lineup.
“I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen when I came out for tryouts, but I managed to do well, made varsity, ended up starting . . . It was definitely a boost to my confidence.”
Her presence has been a much-needed boost for a squad that had been severely depleted by graduation, with seven seniors departing, including the Globe’s Division 2 Player of the Year, Brooke Bell (now at Keene State), and All-Scholastic Sarah McGowan (Boston College club team).
Losing seven seniors “impacted the team because it left some big holes that we had to fill this season . . . bigger holes than most teams would like,” said Melrose coach Scott Celli. “That was our major obstacle, going into this season and filling a lot of offensive spots.”
Crovo (107 kills) and another first-year varsity player, junior Meri Lessing (166), have helped the void left by McGowan (341 kills last season) and Rachel Johnson (152).
At the beginning of the season, Celli said that the new hitters were not aggressive enough in their approach, afraid to make mistakes. But that timidness has dissipated.
“With the maturation of our middle hitters . . . they’ve really become kids that are tough to defend when they attack the ball,” Celli said.
“They’re so much better now — and I’m not surprised that they’re this good, I’m just surprised with how fast they’ve picked it up.”
And having a setter as talented as Allie Nolan goes a long way for an inexperienced attack.
The junior, a defensive specialist last fall, has taken on the all-important role formerly held by Bell, the program’s all-time leader in assists (1,700-plus).
“Any time we get a good pass from the back row, Allie always gives you the perfect set to smash down,” said Crovo. “Basically every set she gives you is right where you want it.”
Added Nolan: “I’ve been trying my best to give them an accurate pass every time, but even if it’s not a great set, they’ll still swing at it as hard as possible and try to get a kill.”
Celli, the boys’ coach at St. John’s Prep, his alma mater, in the spring, has been impressed with Nolan’s transition to the setter position.
“She runs the show,” he said.
“She’s been my floor captain since game one this year and she’s done a fantastic job. She’s a vocal leader, she leads by example, and she does a lot of the dirty work for us.”
So, too, is senior captain Jill MacInnes, whom Celli believes is the top libero in the state.
“She makes plays other people cannot make,” Celli said. “She’s a calming force for us; she’s able to settle everything down and get our defense to turn into good offense.”
MacInnes loves the position that enables her to dive on the floor and be the grit of the team.
“I just have it in me that no ball can hit the floor,” said MacInnes, who was also a member of the Raiders squad that advanced to the state final in 2011 before losing to Marlborough.
“I always give 110 percent, and that’s the position that you really get to put everything out there.”
MacInnes, who called last year’s state title win “the most amazing experience of my life,” came into this season with it fresh on her mind.
“The returning varsity players all came in knowing what we have to do, what it takes to get that far, and what it was like to actually win it,” she said.
“So we took that from last year, brought it to the team this year, and I think all of the new younger players all know what it’s going to take for us to get where to we ended up last year.”
The state tournament pairings will be announced Thursday, with the postseason tapping on Saturday.
Senior defensive specialists Cassidy Barbaro (captain), Alyssa Abbott, and leading server Maeve Moriarty have all played integral roles.
“We all have that goal to win states, so every game they remind us what we have to do to get there,” said Lessing, a member of the JV squad last fall.
“They let us know how we have to work hard as a team and give it everything we have in every game and every practice.”