Notre Dame of Hingham sophomore Avery Spaziani stood in the back corner of the court at Barnstable High and stared down the defending Division 1 state champions from the service line.
With her father, former Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani, in attendance, she methodically bounced the ball six times – her usual pre-serve routine – and launched it over the net with a big right-handed push.
Barnstable’s Olivia Brodt deflected the return into the scorer’s table, handing ND-Hingham a 9-1 cushion in the third set.
A few plays later, the 5-foot-7 Spaziani bumped the ball to sophomore setter Corinne Cox , who connected with senior outside hitter Julia Flynn , a returning Globe All-Scholastic, for a seismic spike.
NDA won that set, 25-20, becoming the first team to take a game from Barnstable this year. The Cougars took the fourth set too, but suffered their first loss of the year after dropping the tiebreaking fifth, 15-11.
“We just put it all out there,” said 5-foot-9 Flynn, clearly exhausted after the match.
“I thought at one point, we weren’t scared of them anymore. We went for it, I thought we did good, and I’m proud of us.”
A Bryant University recruit, Flynn said the entire team was a little intimidated by the perennial powerhouse, but no team in program history came closer to beating Barnstable on the road.
Despite their impressive 4-1 start, Notre Dame is shifting to Division 2 for the tournament this season, the first time in four years, and thus will not have to go through the defending champion Red Raiders in the South Sectional.
“For the last four years, we’ve been in Division 1 and have been in the shadow of Barnstable,” said coach Josh Shepherd , who has been at the helm since 2007.
“Does it feel good that [they’re] no longer part of our tournament mix? Yeah, but in the place of Barnstable, there are four or five other tough D2 teams,” pointing to Canton, Medfield, and Westborough.
Flynn is excited for those matchups as well, but admitted she is disappointed because she wanted to beat the Red Raiders, and do so on grandest stage possible.
Her desire and competitiveness evolved from being the youngest of four siblings; she had winning on her mind every day growing up with siblings Billy, now 24, Richard, 22 and Catherine, 19.
Spaziani also grew up taking competition seriously, largely shaped by her father’s motto at BC: “Ever to excel.” She took it on as her own, giving 100 percent effort in everything from academics to chores.
Her father attends her games and Spaziani feels he can relate since he knows the pressure of Division 1 competition.
“He’s my biggest fan,” Spaziani said. “He’s kind of like a second coach. I see him cheering and telling me to focus. If I messed up or something, I look at my dad rather than my coach because my dad understands me more.”
Spaziani, who along with Cox and Flynn receives the majority of the offensive touches, has thrived in a position of leadership. In the offseason, she suited up for the Norwood-based SMASH Volleyball’s U15 club team this offseason while Flynn played for the U17 squad.
The sophomore is also comfortable being loud on the court and using her vocal skills to control a situation or provide a confidence boost.
Cox is a quieter presence on the court than Spaziani, but she has played a major role since her family moved to Duxbury from Ann Arbor, Mich. She attended a volleyball camp at Boston College this summer with Spaziani and was able to bond with her new teammate.
She said the transition process was seamless, but joked that there was a “language barrier” because she had to get used to hearing the word “wicked” so often.
“The girls were so sweet to me on my first day of school,” Cox said. “When I first showed up to tryouts, I was the new girl. They all took time to say hi to me and introduce themselves, which was nice.”
She said that although it was a loss, the Barnstable game taught her more about the nuances of her position, setter. As an out-of-stater, she was able to keep her focus because she was not as familiar with their reputation.
“I learned when you’re a setter, you have to see which hitter is on,” the 6-foot Cox said, referring to her offensive options to her left and right in the front row. “I think I need to help my players get more confidence toward the beginning of the game.”
It’s a goal that overlaps with Flynn, who said her personal goal is to keep confidence in herself and the team. In the past, she has struggled with keeping her emotions from negatively escalating on the court, but has been able to find a balance this season.
She places big expectations on herself after being unanimously selected to the MIAA all-state team last year. She added that she makes it a point to be dangerous for opponents, especially with her overpowering spike and improved passing skills.
With previous individual distinctions, honors, and a college scholarship in hand, Flynn said the only thing left for her to accomplish is to win the D2 state championship.
“I definitely feel like once I started in this program, that’s what was missing the whole time,” Flynn said. “That’s my main goal, to lead our team to win. I think we’re prepared for it.”Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.