In eighth grade, Elena Soukous and her family visited Greece. It was nothing out of the ordinary, they go fairly often to visit Soukous’s grandparents, who live in Athens. But on the beach one day on the island of Santorini, Soukous played some beach volleyball. Since then, her love for the sport has been unwavering.
Soukous, now a senior for the fifth-ranked Melrose girls’ volleyball team, is a key piece of the puzzle for the Red Raiders.
“She’s about as complete of a player as we’ve ever had at Melrose,” Melrose coach Scott Celli said. “Her complete game is just off the charts. She never leaves the floor.”
The 5-foot-11-inch outside hitter found her passion for the game quickly, despite only picking it up a few years ago. She connected with it quickly because the sport gave her a way to harness her competitiveness.
“I really like how it’s not an individual sport,” Soukous said. “It’s all a connection, and you have to work together and adjust as one.”
Both Celli and Brent Ashley, Soukous’s club coach at MASS IMPACT, praised her knowledge. Ashley said that when you feed her information or insight about the game, “she’s like a sponge.”
“When you approach her with the game, she just sucks it in,” said Ashley, also the coach at Lynnfield. “She always wants to know more.”
But what sets Soukous apart is how she takes that knowledge that she craves and uses it to push herself creatively on the court. Ashley said that the more opportunities they give her to be creative, the better the outcome is. Celli said that, with his own bias aside, she’s the best player in the Middlesex League.
“When she gets in the front row, she’s one of the toughest hitters around,” Celli said. “She’s the real deal.”
Soukous is the definition of first one in, last one out. Celli described how she drives the team through her competitiveness in practice. Ashley said that his club practices will sometimes run 45 minutes long because she’s still in there hitting and driving the team to continue.
“She’s got a work ethic like you’ve never seen before in your life,” Ashley said.
Soukous and the Red Raiders have one goal this year. That’s their motto — One Dream, One Goal — and that’s to win a state championship.
“That drives me because it’s my senior year,” Soukous said. “I don’t want to stop playing for Melrose.”
Melrose last won the Division 2 state title in 2012, a 21-1 run in which the Red Raiders lost only one set in the playoffs — in the final against Longmeadow.
Celli sees the team he has this year, which has started 5-0, as the one that’s the closest to that 2012 team, with Soukous as a catalyst. He said that in his team, Soukous is the “go-to,” senior libero Autumn Whelan is the “calming presence,” and junior middle hitter Chloe Gentile is the “fire.” The combination of those three, along with senior Abby Hudson (the team’s “hardest hitter,” per Celli) when she makes her return from injury, is proving lethal through the first three weeks of the season, as they power Melrose’s fast, high-tempo offense.
“It keeps the other team off balance a lot,” Celli said. “Some years you don’t have the players to run it, but we have a really smart group on the team this year.”
Ashley’s Lynnfield team scrimmaged Melrose at the start of the year. Because of that high-tempo offense, the Red Raiders pushed through the challenge and won, 3-1.
“If the team isn’t gelling, you’re not going to be able to run that pace,” Ashley said. “They know what they’re doing. They’re getting breakneck fast.”
Melrose runs lots of shoots through its offense, a play that requires excellent timing to keep their pace, and they try to get the ball to the setter as soon as they can. When the timing and communication is right, it’s very tough to beat.
“Once we get started, it’s unstoppable,” Soukous said.
Soukous and the Red Raiders are looking to push the pace every time they hit the court, all the way until their one goal. Celli spoke from experience when he said that a team needs to be good, healthy, and lucky, to win in the tournament. But he likes his team’s chances.
“We’ve got the offensive firepower, the defense, the setting,” Celli said. “Any tight situations we’ve been in, we’ve been able to overcome them.”
Games to Watch
Saturday, Westfield at Lincoln-Sudbury, 12:30 p.m. — The No. 6 Warriors host unbeaten Westfield in this intriguing non-conference matchup.
Monday, Medway at Westwood, 6:30 p.m. — Two of the top teams in the Tri-Valley League go head-to-head, as unbeaten Medway travels to No. 20 Westwood.
Tuesday, Newton North at Needham, 4 p.m. — It’s a battle between the two first-place teams in the Bay State Conference, as the Carey division’s No. 4 Tigers visit the Herget division’s No. 12 Rockets.
Tuesday, Barnstable at Dennis-Yarmouth, 5:30 p.m. — Out on the Cape, the No. 1 Dolphins host the No. 14 Red Hawks in a high-powered Cape & Islands duel. In the Fall II season, the Dolphins beat Barnstable (Hawks) for the first time since 1988. But Barnstable ruled in the Cape final.
Wednesday, Hingham at Quincy, 5:30 p.m. —The No. 17 Harborwomen and the No. 9 Patriots meet in this Patriot League Top 20 battle.