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Bedford girls’ volleyball bases its success on a powerful air attack

Bedford's Gabriela Zovko, a 6-foot-1-inch sophomore, uses her height and lefthanded play to her advantage at the net during Tuesday's sweep of Cambridge.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The voice of Lisa Predaina rises an octave when she talks about Gabriela Zovko and Lauren Harrell. The enthusiasm is audible, and understandable. She knows how rare it is to coach a talented duo playing at a smaller school such as Bedford.

Zovko, a 6-foot-1-inch sophomore setter and right side hitter, and Harrell, a 6-3 junior opposite hitter, are the building blocks of the Bedford attack, and a big reason why the Buccaneers have maintained their same level of success following their run to the Division 2 North semifinals in 2019.

In addition to their height, they are experienced and have powerful left-handed attacks, a combination rarely seen from one player at the high school level, let alone two. Their versatility and confidence rattle opposing defenses.


“We’ve got a powerful attack this year and we’re really able to terminate the ball in ways that Bedford hasn’t been able to do in the past,” said Predaina, in her fifth year as coach.

Entering Tuesday’s match against visiting Cambridge, Zovko and Harrell had combined for 43 kills on 105 attempts, a 41.0 kill percentage. Senior outside hitter Michaela Schmidt, who transferred from Ohio because her father is stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, had a team-leading 28 kills for the Bucs., who swept Cambridge to improve to 3-1.

Gabriela Zovko waits for a serve Tuesday during Bedford's win over Cambridge.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

This season, Predaina has shuffled rotations and positions, switching from a 5-1 to a 6-2 system to allow Zovko to split time hitting and setting. She was the full-time setter in 2019 and sets only when Harrell is hitting on the right side, sharing duties with junior Logan Sullivan. Predaina also moved Harrell from the middle position to opposite to better utilize her attacking abilities, and Harrell has taken to her new role with gusto.

“I am able to hit [down the] line a lot easier than if teams have a righty right side, so I don’t think most teams are expecting that,” Harrell said.


But the Buccaneers haven’t lost much height in the middle. At 5-11, junior Gabrielle Griffiths is the new middle. She’s also an Air Force-related transfer, previously playing volleyball in Texas and at Camp Zama, an American military base in Japan located about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo.

“To maintain that really tall presence at the net, you can’t coach height,” Predaina said. “We’ve been able to frustrate teams with our ability to block, so that’s been a really helpful part of our game that has been a consistent part of our game.”

Bedford's Logan Sullivan (15) reaches out for a dig during Tuesday's match vs. Cambridge.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Bedford had 21 blocks entering Tuesday’s match. Zovko leads in that category with seven, and she also leads the team in aces (11). Her athleticism is remarkable. She also plays for the SMASH Volleyball 16s team during the club season, coached by Boston Latin girls’ coach Kai Yuen and former Newton North star Ashley Wang, now playing at Harvard. According to the team’s roster, Zovko has a 93-inch standing reach, 110-inch block touch, and 113-inch spike touch.

“She’s incredibly coachable and driven,” Predaina said. “You can just see some stuff that’s supremely dominating on an individual level.”

Zovko’s dual role in both conducting the offense and being a centerpiece of it allows her to dictate the pace of a match. She’s been working on setting the ball faster and doing so from different spots on the court to get more hitters involved and reach balls that in other circumstances might be errant passes. Like Harrell, hitting on the right side is easier for her left-handed swing because she can hit more spots on the court.


“Knowing that we have a really tall team this year and can hit the ball from anywhere on the court, that gives us a ton of confidence,” Zovko said.

The Bedford girls' volleyball team is 3-1 under fifth-year coach Lisa Pedraina (center) following Tuesday's win over Cambridge.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Bedford’s only blemish in its COVID-19-shortened 10-game season was a 3-2 (22-25, 25-17, 25-15, 16-25, 11-15) loss to Weston on March 9, but they responded two days later against the Wildcats, rallying to win 3-2 (22-25, 26-28, 27-25, 25-13, 15-13). Bedford’s hope is to win the two-game Dual County League Small Tournament scheduled for April 13 and 15.

“We just need to minimize our silly mistakes on the first touch and this team can be really dominant. It’s really fun to watch them,” Predaina said.

Service points

▪ As of Tuesday afternoon, Needham had raised $5,219 for the Side-Out Foundation, a nonprofit that partners with volleyball programs to raise money for breast cancer research. Needham raised the funds before its annual Dig Pink game with Wellesley on Tuesday.

▪ Falmouth took a set from Barnstable last Thursday, winning the third, 27-25, in Barnstable’s 3-1 victory. It was the first time that a league opponent took a set from Barnstable since Sept. 23, 2015 when Dartmouth won one in an Old Colony League match. The OCL folded at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Matches to watch

Thursday, Ashland at Hopkinton, 6 p.m. — Both Tri-Valley League stalwarts are 2-0 and the only two regular-season losses Ashland had in 2019 were to Hopkinton. It’s been approximately 17 months since these two teams faced each other.


Tuesday, Concord-Carlisle at Acton-Boxborough, 4 p.m. — A match between the DCL Small and DCL Large leaders, this has been a rivalry in recent years. Three of the last four matches between the two clubs have gone to five sets and the series is 2-2 in that timespan. C-C won both meetings in 2019.

Tuesday, Milton at Natick, 4 p.m. — Milton entered Tuesday at 4-0 thanks to strong performances from senior libero Avery Liou, and the Wildcats lead the Bay State Conference Herget Division. Natick is in second place behind Needham in the Bay State Carey.

Tuesday, Methuen at Chelmsford, 5 p.m. — Chelmsford was one of the few teams in the Merrimack Valley Conference that elected not to play during the Fall I season, but Methuen did. Chelmsford is playing an independent schedule and is 2-2 through four games, but Methuen athletic director Matt Curran confirmed this will be an unofficial match to help Chelmsford fill its schedule. Still, it’s a unique situation because Methuen, even unofficially, will be the only girls’ volleyball team in the state to play a game in both the Fall I and Fall II seasons.

“They just kind of helped us out and put together a team because we didn’t have anyone to play,” Chelmsford athletic director Dan Hart.