The importance of experience is certainly not lost on the Hamilton-Wenham girls’ volleyball team.
Following an 18-5 campaign last fall that ended with a Division 2 North semifinal loss to Burlington in a five-set thriller, the Generals are fielding a 12-player roster with seven seniors and three juniors this season.
“We have five starting seniors and we’ve been playing together for many years, so that’s a key aspect for our success,”said senior captain Cecily Szady .“In the preseason, we really worked on being able to sub people in or change who’s setting and just really become comfortable with whoever is on the court.”
Ranked 16th in this week’s Globe Top 10, H-W is off to a perfect 12-0 start (10-0 in Cape Ann League play) and seeking its first league title since 2000.
“Us seniors, since we have so many on the team, we’re doing it for each other to get that name on the banner in our gym,” said Szady, a 5-foot-10 middle hitter.
“CAL champs. It would be so special if we can keep our steady and calm play, as steady as I’ve ever seen us.”
Szady (38 kills, 18 blocks) and fellow tri-captains Lauren Flynn(118 kills) and Katie Hankin (56 kills) have combined to form an imposing offensive grouping. Libero Grace Lapian has been excellent defensively. And with the graduation of four-year starter Tori Vivenzio , Jaidin Hartley-Ward and Alex Padellaro have combined for 236 assists while running a two-setter attack.
“These girls mean so much to me, so it’s always emotional,” said Hamilton-Wenham coach Jen Flynn , also the mother of the senior captain.
“I want them to have a great senior year. And of course, I’m trying to do my best to stay emotionally steady on the bench as a coach. But when they make some of these amazing plays or do something phenomenal, at least I can see my husband [Dave] jumping up and down in the stands across the court. So I can live vicariously through him. But it is very special.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this wonderful to share this experience with Lauren and her best friends.”
The Generals know that they must maintain their consistency to hold off perennial Cape Ann power Lynnfield for the league title.
The Generals prevailed in their September matchup, rallying from a two-set deficit for a 16-25, 23-25, 25-17, 34-32, 15-12 win.
“In the past few years, we’ve been up and down,” said the younger Flynn, who tallied 27 kills and 27 digs in the victory over Lynnfield.
“Sometimes we’ll be in a rut and you can feel all that negative energy coming from everyone at some point, but this year I think we’ve really gotten rid of that aspect of our play and we’ve really been able to have this confidence and control no matter if we lost or won a rally.
“It’s helped us get out to this great start.”
With four games left in league play, including a rematch with Lynnfield on Oct. 18, the Generals are in a good position to add another year to their banner.
But even with their undefeated start, the younger Flynn emphasized the importance of not looking too far ahead.
“It’s not always about the end goal,” said Flynn, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter. “It’s about the next game, the next set, the next point. I’m not thinking about the CAL championship when I’m in the game. I’m thinking about getting that next pass up. If [winning a league or state title] happens for us, then it will be because of each point and each set that we’ve won along the way.”
■ With her 21 kills in a 3-0 win over Bridgewater-Raynham, Barnstable junior outside hitter Riley James surpassed 1,000 career kills as the defending Division 1 champions (10-0) qualified for the state tournament. “She’s just a very talented player,” coach Tom Turco. “She’s got great court sense and she’s a hard worker. Certainly, on behalf of the team, we’re so happy for her.” It was a big night for James and Sara Donehey, manager of the freshman team, as both were recognized with the MIAA Ed Athletics Award for Leadership and Community Service before the match.
■ North Andover bested Billerica in three sets on Wednesday night, but the teams combined to raise $1,860 on the team’s Dig Pink night, which will be donated toward breast cancer research.
Players of the Week
Luna Colozzo, Winchester: The junior recorded 18 kills to help the No. 17 Sachems (9-0) stay undefeated with a 3-1 win over Woburn (9-2).
Emma Fenton, Bourne: Fenton’s 15 kills and two blocks in a 3-1 win over Case helped the No. 8 Canalmen finish off the season sweep of the Cardinals.
Katie Melendez, Cambridge: The senior setter dished out 57 assists as the No. 19 Falcons (7-2) ended the undefeated start of No. 14 Westford (10-1).
Abigail Sullivan, Methuen: The senior middle hitter amassed an impressive 32 kills and 15 blocks from her middle hitter position in a 3-1 MVC win over Lawrence.
Rachel Zale, Hopkinton: Zale racked up 17 kills, five digs, four aces and three assists as the No. 5 Hillers (10-2) avenged a season-opening loss to No. 12 Medfield (6-3).
Games of the Week
Friday, No. 12 Medfield at No. 8 Bourne, (5:30 p.m.): The Canalmen (12-0) are unbeaten. The 6-3 Warriors will be seeking another quality win.
Friday, No. 2 Newton North at No. 1 Barnstable, (5 p.m.): Riley James and Ashley Wang square off in what could very well be a preview of the state semifinals.
Tuesday, No. 6 Brookline at No. 2 Newton North, (4 p.m.): It’s a big week for the Tigers (8-0). North dealt Brookline (8-1) its lone loss of the season in a five-setter in early September.
Wednesday, No. 7 Melrose at No. 17 Winchester, (5 p.m.): A matchup of undefeated Middlesex squads — can the Sachems (9-0) play on the same level as the Red Raiders (11-0)?
Thursday, No. 14 Westford at No. 10 Acton Boxborough, (5:15 p.m.): The Grey Ghosts (10-1) are coming off a tough loss to Cambridge; the Colonials (6-2) just dropped a four-set match to Concord-Carlisle.Dan McLoone be reached at email@example.com