WINCHESTER — Entering Saturday’s Middlesex League girls’ volleyball championship, Winchester and Melrose each lost just a single set all season. With both teams going into the championship match undefeated, one team’s perfect record had to fall.
In a closely contested affair, Winchester defeated the Red Raiders, 25-19, 25-21, 25-18, to win the title.
“I thought we played some of our best volleyball this season today, when we needed to, at the biggest times and in the biggest moments,” Winchester coach John Fleming said. “They really stepped up and played well.”
After losing in the Division 1 state final in 2019, Winchester capped a perfect season with an impressive performance. With no state tournament to avenge their last loss, the group achieved all it could this season.
“We knew this is what we had, so we took full advantage of it,” senior captain Tia Fiorentino said.
The match consisted of several long points, a grueling back and forth between two teams that refused to give an inch. Winchester (13-0) won the point in the majority of those exchanges, snatching the momentum and riding it to take the first two sets.
Melrose (12-1) opened the third set with a commanding 7-1 run, but Fleming elected not to take a timeout, entrusting his group to battle out of the early deficit.
“The goal was to let [the team] play through it,” Fleming said. “They’ve earned the respect and the confidence to be able to do that. We were close, believe me, to calling a timeout there. But I wanted to give the girls a chance to play through it, and they did, and they responded well. I think it shows their character and resolve to just keep playing, no matter what.”
Senior captain Eme Rich paced Winchester with six blocks, but none were bigger than the one that gave her team a 13-10 advantage in the third set. From there, Winchester rattled off consecutive points and take a commanding lead. Fiorentino, who had nine kills, notched several of them late in the third set. Winchester, which has eight seniors on the roster, relied heavily on its leadership throughout the third set.
“We are really close as friends, on and off the court, so I think that really helped us have a relationship on the court,” senior Jules Darigo said, who had four kills in the match. “I think it was great having such close seniors to really bring the group together.”
Sophomore Katie Jiang paced Winchester with four aces and 23 assists, while sophomore Lauren Tian led the team with 12 kills.
“I’ll take this group over any in the state,” Fleming said.