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After a long, difficult road, Somerville boys’ volleyball finally in a good place

Edrick Pacheco and the Somerville boys' volleyball team have made themselves right at home in their new gymnasium.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Jaderson Flores was ecstatic for the Somerville boys’ volleyball home opener on April 5 — so ecstatic that the senior setter committed a service error to open a five-set victory against Randolph.

“I was so excited, but I also was scared nervous,” he recalled with a laugh.

His anticipation wasn’t just for a new season. The Highlanders had spent nearly three years playing away games as Somerville High underwent a massive, $256 million renovation.

This spring marks the first in the brand-new, brightly-lit gymnasium, and the team has stepped up its game accordingly. After going just 1-19 in 2019 and 0-10 in 2021, the Highlanders have surged to a 7-3 start.


“That can be very demoralizing for high school students,” Somerville coach Steve Walker said. “But they stuck with it. Nobody quit. Nobody said, ‘It’s not for me, this sucks, I’m out of here.’ They all sat together and we kept it light-hearted.”

Coach Steve Walker and Somerville are getting positive results after challenging 2019 and 2021 seasons.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Flores and middle blocker Jaspreet Saini, along with fellow co-captains Edrick Pacheco and Aiden Slattery, have guided Somerville through its transformation. They competed in Somerville’s old gym for a handful of games in the 2019 season before the school shut it down for construction. The Highlanders had to finish 2019 and play all of 2021 at East Somerville Community School, where equipment lacked and practices were restrained to one hour in an effort to balance gym availability.

This season, Somerville is thriving with two-hour practices, a new weight room, and specialized boxes for setting practice. The team has found more time to train with each other and build rapport that is translating to the court.

“Last season, we did not talk as much on the court,” Saini said. “So this season, we have talked a lot, and that is one of our key success points that we’re having.”


Flores, Saini, and Walker agree that improved team chemistry has helped light a spark under the Highlanders. They’re a fun-loving bunch; Walker has been challenged by his team to perform the viral “Griddy” dance (popularized by Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson) after each comeback victory. He also leads a good-natured battle over practice music, staunchly advocating for more classic rock and AC/DC in the group playlists.

“This year’s team is just a fun group to be around,” Walker said. “You can tell they genuinely care about each other [and] want to have fun, and they’re there for a good time.”

Led by (from left) Edrick Pacheco, Jaderson Flores and Elias Colley, Somerville is off to a 7-3 start to the season.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Flores, one of four co-captains, appreciates how his team has brought several social circles together and found common ground. Though he said there was initial tension at the start of the season, Flores has admired how the players have bought into seeing each other succeed.

“We see each other in the hallways, we’ll study together, and we’ll talk about specific things,” he said. “We have more time for team bonding . . . Therefore, we know each other a lot better.”

Walker also credited the recent turnaround to a sport that is on the rise in Somerville. The Highlanders field a junior varsity program for the first time in Walker’s 13 years as coach. JV coach Annie Rathjens helped start offseason development programs this past year, and as many as 35-40 kids participated each weekend.

“The outpouring of support has just been, like, overwhelming, to the point where we had to add extra sessions,” Walker said.


That support is migrating to the new gymnasium. Flores says students are stopping on the second floor to peek down through the gym windows as the high school team plays. Fans, classmates and other school sports teams frequently take in a Highlanders match, and the momentum has Somerville on the path to the postseason.

“At least in my past four years here, we were never able to do that, because we’d never win games,” Flores said. “So I think that alone is like an accomplishment.”

Ezra Brody (14) and Aidan Slattery (17) were strong at the net during Somerville's recent match against Latin Academy.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Service points

▪ The number 100 popped up frequently in boys’ volleyball this week. Top-ranked Needham surpassed 100 consecutive set victories on Saturday, handing Westfield its first loss of the season in a 3-0 victory. The Rockets have now won 102 consecutive sets and 34 straight matches dating back to the start of last season.

O’Bryant coach Paul Pitts-Dilley also logged career win No. 100 on Friday when the Tigers (11-2) took down Madison Park at home.

▪ Westfield, Boston Latin and Greater New Bedford all had their unbeaten runs come to an end this week. Needham (12-0) and Frontier (9-0) are the only remaining undefeated teams in the state.

▪ In the latest MIAA Power Ratings release, Milford vaulted to the top of Division 2. The Scarlet Hawks went 2-1 with three-set victories over Wayland and Agawam, and a narrow five-set loss to Natick boosted their strength of schedule.

Division 2 squads have generally seen their ratings hold serve with their Division 1 peers. Milford is third among teams across both divisions behind Needham and Westford. Greater New Bedford is ranked second in Division 2 and fifth among all teams.


Games to watch

Tuesday, Brookline at Needham, 4 p.m. The No. 12 Warriors aim to avenge a 3-0 loss to the top-ranked Rockets April 7 in this Bay State Conference matchup.

Wednesday, Boston Latin at Lincoln-Sudbury, 4 p.m. — The No. 16 Wolfpack were dealt their first loss last week, but they can get back on track with a Dual County League win against the No. 11 Warriors.

Wednesday, Lowell Catholic at Cambridge, 4 p.m. — The 9-2 Crusaders host a quality nonleague matchup against the No. 14 Falcons.

Thursday, Malden at Revere, 4:00 Two of the top teams in the Greater Boston League square off.

Thursday, Natick at Newton North -- This Bay State Conference showdown pits the fourth-ranked Red Hawks against the No. 13 Tigers.