The volleyball banners in the gymnasium at Lynnfield High loudly proclaim a decade-long dynasty under coach Michelle Perrone. Her team has won North titles for the past seven years running, but that Division 3 dominance is about to end.
Lynnfield is moving up to Division 2 as part of a divisional realignment by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association based on enrollment numbers. That means the road to an eighth straight North championship will be more arduous than ever.
Perrone and her players don’t seem to care much about their divisional placement. They just want to play, and win.
“We’re now the smallest school in Division 2, but I’m happy with it,” said Perrone. “I think there’s great competition in Division 2, and I think we can compete with some of the best teams.”
In fact, she knows Lynnfield can beat some of the big dogs in higher divisions. As long as she’s been coach, her teams have played regular season schedules against a mix of mostly D1 and D2 competition. They’ve welcomed the challenge, which has helped prepare them for the tournament in years past.
“We beat North Andover last year; we can do it again,” said senior captain Emory Caswell of the D1 foe. “We always compete with the good teams,” added Melissa Morelli, who made an immediate impact last year as a freshman.
The bigger issue for Lynnfield might not be that they’ve graduated up a division, but rather that they graduated six key seniors last year. It’s still early, but Perrone has confidence in the sophomores who are stepping up into big shoes.
“They’re learning the ropes right now, and they’re doing a great job,” said Perrone, who makes sure the younger players understand what it means to be a team player. “We really work on teamwork, communication, covering each other, and really supporting our teammates.”
Her mantra: communication on the court.
“We’re building that, that’s definitely something that we work on during practice, and we’re trying to show that more during games,” said senior captain Elana Kotler. “Once you start to have a voice during practice, it’s easier to incorporate that in a game, and that’s definitely improved since the beginning of the season, so hopefully by the end it’ll be 110 percent.”
That teamwork was on full display in a dominant victory over Pope John Sept. 14. Lynnfield’s players spoke loudly at each touch of the ball, and unforced errors were few and far between as they cruised to 3-0 win.
“We’re starting to get the sophomores to talk a little more, so they can be more comfortable in their game,” said Caswell. “They do have very good skills, but they just have to be a little more confident, and that starts with talking to their teammates.”
Consistency has been the hallmark of Perrone’s tenure in Lynnfield, and she knows she’ll need that from her players to keep the streak of tournament success going. “Being so young, we have a lot of inexperience,’’ she said, “so I think once we get the experience under our belt and are a little more consistent with our serving and our hitting, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Perrone has high expectations for her players, who in turn meet those expectations and set the bar higher for the next group. The circumstances of this season have not changed anything about that cycle, or the goals that come with it.
“Watching all these good players come out of the program, it motivates us to be like them and follow in their footsteps,” said Morelli. “The players that we’ve played with the past few years have definitely prepared us really well for the teams that we’re gonna play this year,” added Caswell.
This Lynnfield group knows it’s been entrusted with a winning legacy, and they take the responsibility of not dropping the torch seriously.
“I think it’s really the history of the program that causes the success,” said Perrone. “It’s a matter of keeping up with the Joneses and making sure that they continue to keep that winning tradition alive.”
For the seniors, winning the Cape Ann League and the North tournament is a matter of personal pride. “We don’t want to be the seniors that lose it, that would stink for our year to be skipped on the banner,” said Caswell. “That’s what pushes us to play hard every game.”
Other teams might tamp down expectations ahead of a season with this much uncertainty, but Lynnfield seems undaunted by the challenge ahead. Its sights are squarely set on winning an eighth consecutive North title against the stiffest tournament competition the program has ever faced.
“A lot of teams say that this is a rebuilding year for us, but I don’t agree,” Caswell said. “I think we have just as good a chance in the tournament this year.”
Perrone shares that outlook, saying she and her team are trying to reach the state tournament.
“We are, most definitely,” she said. “We’re gonna try to shake it up in Division 2.”Tom Petrini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.