Lawrence’s Tony Hajjar has a unique outlook when it comes to coaching.
“I [don’t] think about the standings and it’s OK if we lose,” he said.
What he finds most important is playing with grit and giving opponents a battle. Describing Hajjar as humble is an understatement, and despite a 9-1 record, including stunning the state’s top threat, Milford, he still feels there’s work to do.
“I didn’t think [winning against Milford] was important. It’s about who we are, how good are we,” he said.
If Thursday night’s game was any indication of what is to come from Lawrence, fans should be on the edge of their seats.
The Lancers suffered their only loss to visiting Milford, 3-1, on April 8 and needless to say, this match was “a way to get revenge, but we didn’t want to get ahead because that’s what happened in Lawrence,” said Lancers libero Anthony Choquette.
“We made careless mistakes because we were too into it,” he said.
The Lancers fell, 19-25, 23-25, 25-15, 19-25.
In the rematch, Milford was missing senior Kane Wittorff because of a knee injury, but Hajjar said his squad’s plan was to play as if Wittorff was there.
“I tell them to just believe in yourself and just play your game. It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side,” said Hajjar. “When we approached the game, I told them to be aggressive and be yourself and play your game, and the boys did.”
Wittorff, an outside hitter, ranks second in the state with a .417 hitting percentage and fourth for 3.7 kills per set.
“That’s not an excuse to play our level lower,” said Choquette. “Everyone on our team was playing and every offensive player was a threat, we didn’t lose focus.” And the numbers showed it.
Twins Jeyson and Anibal Henriquez combined for 26 kills, and Christian Mayi (nine kills) and Bryan Camilo (eight kills) chipped in on offense. Reibin Hiraldo registered 44 assists as Lawrence won, 25-22, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20.
“It’s just a positive feeling for everyone,” said Hajjar. “Linda [Zacchilli, the Milford coach] was awesome and shook my hand, and her comments were, ‘Your boys played well.’ ”
“It was definitely intense, and that’s putting it lightly. The atmosphere is the perfect place to play volleyball,” said Choquette.
Hajjar said his team is where he’d like it to be at this point in the season.
“It’s very humbling and shows us that we’re capable of beating the team to beat, but we’re trying to not take it to the head, and take it slow and see we still need work,” said Choquette.
The Lancers (9-1) have avenged losses to Haverhill, and Methuen, which knocked them out of the North sectional quarterfinals last year. Their first meeting with Milford did not go well, with Tim MacMannis stealing the show with 42 assists, 4 aces, 2 blocks, and 2 kills.
But the battle isn’t over for Lawrence. It will be tested in back-to-back games against undefeated Chelmsford and Andover.
“That question comes up again tomorrow,” said Hajjar. “Who are we and how good are we?”
Games of the week
No. 1 Cambridge at No. 8 St. John’s Prep, Mon., 7 p.m. — The Eagles (10-2) will have their hands full with the state’s hitting and kills leader, Jalen Penrose (.432 hitting percentage, 6.4 kills per set). Cambridge has yet to lose this season. The Prep’s Brian Keogh is right behind Penrose, averaging 4.3 kills per set.
No. 8 St. John’s Prep at No. 10 Medfield, Wed., 5 p.m. — St. John’s is looking at a tough week with matchups against two undefeated teams. The Eagles’ last matchup against an undefeated squad, Chelmsford, resulted in their first loss of the season.
No. 2 Lawrence at No. 5 Chelmsford, Mon., 6 p.m. — Both squads have had decisive wins over undefeated teams, so it’s unlikely to be a 3-0 match. The Henriquez twins will be Chelmsford’s biggest obstacle.
Acton-Boxboro at No. 9 Newton South, Mon., 4 p.m. — Both squads have fallen to Dual County League foe Westford, but the Tigers managed to win two sets. The Tigers have registered nine straight-set wins this season.