Newton North may have had a changing of the guard on its coaching staff, but you wouldn’t know it from the on-court success.
First-year coach Nile Fox led the No. 6 Tigers to a statement 3-0 victory over second-seeded Haverhill in Tuesday’s Division 1 state semifinal at Billerica Memorial High School. A ferocious offense, led by junior outside hitter Abigail Wright, led a first-set comeback and two convincing ensuing sets en route to the win.
“I can’t explain the feeling. It’s just really great,” Fox said. “I feel blessed. And I 100% would not be here without these girls.”
The Tigers (18-2) started slowly in the first set and were on the brink of dropping it when they trailed 24-19. Then they reeled off seven straight points to wrestle away the set and the momentum from the Hillies (19-3).
“The way we were playing was not the team that we are. We had to play a little bit better,” Fox said. “We had to raise the competition if we wanted to be where we were at. So after I told them that, they raised the competition and they really started playing well.”
Added Wright: “We bring each other up when we’re in situations like that. Anything’s possible in volleyball. You can be down any amount and you can come back. I think that we knew we wanted this so badly.”
Wright logged a team-high 11 kills in the 26-24, 25-21, 25-12 win. She continuously wreaked havoc with her powerful strikes that echoed throughout the Billerica gymnasium. Senior outside hitter Ioanna Tembelopoulos added 9 kills and 2 aces.
“My coach told me, ‘I don’t care if you hit it out. I don’t care if you hit it in the net, but you have to hit the ball.’ And I took that and I ran with it,” Wright said.
The Tigers will face the winner of No. 1 Franklin vs. No. 5 Needham. Fox could potentially face the school (Needham) where he previously coached at the junior varsity level before coming to Newton North. He took over the program for the legendary Richard Barton, who retired after last season.
“That’d be a great one, going back to play my old place where I worked and things like that. That’d be great. So you know, whoever I play, we’re going to come bring it,” Fox said.
Regardless of the opponent, Wright says her squad is entering the match with plenty of motivation.
“A lot of people would be nervous to go into the state championship, but honestly, we’re going into it with a chip on our shoulder . . . I think that each game we play, we just get more hyped, and more excited, and more determined to be there,” she said.
Division 2 State
Hopkinton 3, King Philip 1 — The Hillers set a sizable goal at the beginning of the season: Get to the Division 2 state championship in the final season for 18-year coach Margie Grabmeier.
The third-seeded Hillers accomplished that goal, knocking off the No. 2 seed Warriors 25-17, 23-25, 25-8, 25-21 in a state semifinal at Milford High.
“I feel like they’re where they belong at this point,” Grabmeier said. “They play with heart, they play for each other, they’ve got great chemistry.”
Hopkinton (23-0) will play top seed and longtime rival Westborough (21-0) in the state final. Hopkinton prevailed, 3-1, in the 2014 Division 2 Central final on its way to a state title. The following year, Westborough got its revenge in the same round; and Hopkinton won in the 2016 sectional semifinals en route to another state championship.
The final point Tuesday night mirrored the first — a Mikayla Grady block — but the fourth set unfurled in seesaw fashion. Hopkinton roared to a 6-0 lead thanks to a strong serving run from senior Samantha Berenson (20 digs), but King Philip (22-2) responded with an 11-4 run, taking an 11-10 lead on a kill from middle Emily Sawyer. KP led until 16-15 when a Berenson ace tied it. But that was the first of five ties from that point up to 20-20 when Hopkinton senior Melanie Gildea tied the score with a kill. She notched another one to give the Hillers a 21-20 lead.
“There was a lot of adrenaline and it was a really good feeling,” said Gildea, who along with senior Kate Powers, paced the Hopkinton offense with 15 kills each.
KP pulled within one at 22-21 on a kill from junior Ahunna James, but Hopkinton sided out on the next point, which led to Grady punctuating the match with a block from the middle, her fifth.
KP rallied to take the last three points of the second set — the final two of which were an ace by Gianna DeLorenzo and a Sawyer kill, but Hopkinton quelled any momentum and roared out to an 11-1 lead in the third set after KP earned the first point.
Westborough 3, Melrose 0 — Westborough preaches the motto that it’s better to be consistently good than occasionally great. When Shannon Clark and Makenna Thrush stepped to the line to serve, with the match on the line, they reminded themselves that steadiness was more important than flashiness.
The top-seeded Rangers used that approach to erase a 24-20 third-set deficit and outlast fifth-seeded Melrose, 25-19, 25-14, 28-26, at Watertown High School.
Westborough (21-0), which certainly sprinkled in plenty of greatness as well, is one win away from capturing its first championship since 2017. Coach Roger Anderson credited his team for staying disciplined in tense situations, both all season and specifically against the Red Raiders (21-3).
“Our mission all year was to respond when challenged,” Anderson said. “That was a big challenge, 20-24. We just played steady volleyball, played tough, and took brave swings. That’s what you’ve got to do in big moments.”
The Raiders used a 7-0 flurry to take a 16-9 advantage and prevail in set No. 1 behind the play of Melissa Kuang, Quinn Anderson, and Clark’. Kuang finished the match with 12 digs, Anderson 15 kills and 14 digs, and Clark 31 assists.
They pulled away in the second set behind the serving of Addyson Moore, but senior captains Elena Soukos, Autumn Whelan, and Abigail Hudson helped Melrose take a 24-20 edge in the third. Clark calmly willed the Rangers to three straight points, then Thrush, Christine Li, and Kuang worked to finish strong.
“I’m really proud of our response,” said Thrush, a senior. “I think we showed that in our game against Dartmouth, where we lost a set and came back. I’m really proud of our team, the way we’re able to respond when pressure is put on us.”
Clark, a junior, said she’s simply most excited that the season isn’t over yet and that the Rangers can continue practicing and competing as a group.
“I think we’ve grown so much this season,” she said. “We support each other like no other team.”
Division 3 State
Old Rochester 3, Tewksbury 2 — With the season on the line, Old Rochester’s All-State middle hitter, Sally Butler rotated off the court.
But the Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat behind the play of senior Sydnee Pires, who recorded two kills and a block in the final six points of the fifth set, propelling fourth-seeded ORR into the state final for the first time since 1990. The Bulldogs rallied from down 2-1 to the top-seeded Redmen in the state semifinal at Bridgewater-Raynham. Game scores were 25-15, 17-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-11.
“Syd has improved tremendously this season,” ORR coach Jimmy Oliveira said. “She’s really stepped it up. She’s brought a lot of power. She’s a big block. She’s a great kid to have on the team.”
Butler was dominant in the middle all night, finishing with a match-high 19 kills and 7 blocks, including a stretch early in the fifth set when she recorded three ace blocks in a five-point stretch.
“She’s a great player, a great blocker,” Oliveira said. “I want to enjoy this last game I have her for.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a first-set win behind seven kills from senior Maggie Brogioli, who finished with 15. But Tewksbury recovered to take the next two games behind the back-line play of libero Carrina Baron, who finished with 19 digs and 10 service aces, and the front-line play of Katie Cueva, who had 18 kills.
Butler dominated the fourth set, putting down eight kills, including back-to-back points that broke a 21-all tie.
“I think we realized this could be our last game so that clicked in our heads and we realized we had to leave it all on the court,” Butler said. “We put all our effort into it and it paid off and we won, which is awesome.”
The Bulldogs await the winner of No. 2 Dennis-Yarmouth and No. 6 Bedford, who play at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Dartmouth High.
Division 5 State
Frontier 3, Mt. Greylock 0 — Caroline Deane stepped up and recorded 15 kills, after outside hitter Jillian Apanell exited the game with an injury early in the first set to power the No. 2 seed Red Hawks (21-4) to the semifinal win at Chicopee Comp.
Setter Sydney Scanlon tallied 26 assists and five aces, as the 2019 D3 state champion Red Hawks advanced to their second consecutive state final, this time in Division 5. Frontier will face either Bourne or Paulo Freire for the title.
“I can not express enough how proud I am of the team overcoming the emotions of seeing their friend and teammate in pain on the bench and staying focused to win the match in 3 against a good Greylock team,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said.
Globe correspondents Brandon Chase reported from Milford, Trevor Hass from Watertown, and Brendan Kurie from Bridgewater.