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Led by first-year coach Megan Johnston, North Quincy boys’ volleyball posting a breakout season

First-year coach Megan Johnston (center) has led the North Quincy boys' volleyball team to an 11-1 start.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

At one of the first North Quincy boys’ volleyball practices, first-year coach Megan Johnston asked each player write down a personal goal for the season and collective team goals — on a giant poster.

Jokingly, the Raiders set the bar high, picturing league championships and state tournament runs.

With a week left in the regular season, the players describe those goals with a serious tone. After dropping their first match to Greater New Bedford, the Raiders have skyrocketed with 11 straight wins to vault to the top of the South Alliance. Even Johnston admits that this spring has surpassed all expectations.


“I was like, if we can meet our goals for each game, and each do our task and build a foundation, then I can see [the] postseason,” Johnston said. “I did not at all anticipate being [11-1]; I really just didn’t know what to expect.”

Johnston is the “new” coach, but she was a three-year varsity player at North Quincy (Class of 1998), then four more at Eastern Nazarene; she was an assistant at ENC for Jim Rendle from 2013-2015. When Andrew Shaw stepped down at North Quincy, Johnston’s son, Cameron, and a few of his friends gauged her interest.

“We actually, technically, approached her first, and then I think she wanted to do it as well,” Cameron said.

Cameron Johnston has powered North Quincy to 11 straight victories, the latest coming against Taunton.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Johnston’s husband, Mike, also coached at Eastern Nazarene, and Cameron’s sister, Sadie, played on the NQ girls’ team last fall as a freshman. Her presence has only added to their volleyball-centric dinner conversations. Cameron admires her as a coach and still sees the cheerleading mom come out on the sidelines every so often.

“My favorite is when she cheers us on from the sidelines and tries to hype up the bench after a point, tapping her head after we hit a ball through a block or something like that,” Cameron said. “That’s something you don’t see most coaches do. I think it gets the team going.”


Johnston tasked herself with establishing a tight-knit team culture. Players have attested to it so far, with occasional pasta dinners helping them bond and prepare for tough matches. She’s also drilled the fundamentals into a young team with only four seniors and several inexperienced players.

“I think I just had experience in helping them understand the basics of volleyball — good passing, positioning, good relationship to the ball — but then also game strategy and things like that,” she said. “This team was hungry to learn.”

Dylan Clifford has thrived in his first season playing boys' volleyball.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

One of those players is Dylan Clifford, a junior who started playing volleyball this season after encouragement from senior Nate Caldwell. Clifford’s personal goal? To simply learn how to play and properly hit a volleyball. He’s now the starting middle blocker, and credits Johnston’s tutelage for helping him get there.

“She knew we could be really good,” Clifford said. “She kept telling us that and we all just bought in. She inspires us every day, pretty much.”

Adam Huang has also thrived in his senior season despite an extended absence from the game. In March 2021, Huang caught COVID-19 and doctors noticed a heart murmur during a post-quarantine checkup. Though the condition ended up not being serious, Huang skipped his junior season as a precaution. This year, he’s back and succeeding as the team’s libero.

“We had a lot to work on,” Huang said. “But I feel like now, we are definitely better because of her and her drills that she makes us do in practice.”


Adam Huang has returned to the court after sitting out the 2021 season.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GL

North Quincy’s impressive run includes avenging its lone defeat and handing Greater New Bedford one of its two losses on May 4. The Raiders also beat rival Quincy in a five-set thriller in which Cameron posted 24 kills and 21 digs. Along the way, they’ve risen to No. 15 in the Globe’s Top 20 and third in the MIAA Division 2 Power Ratings.

The Raiders recently returned to their poster of season goals and reflected on how far they’ve come.

“We were kind of just messing around while we were doing it,” Clifford said. “Now, it’s not as much of a joke anymore.”

Megan Johnston, who starred for the North Quincy girls' volleyball team in the late 1990s, didn't anticipate an 11-1 start in her first season as boys' coach.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Service points

▪ The MIAA set dates for the state semifinals (June 13-14) and state championships (June 15-16) at last week’s volleyball committee meeting. Those matchups will be held at high school gymnasiums instead of college facilities. Committee chair Brian McCann, also the retiring Case principal, participated in his final meeting.

▪ St. John’s Prep senior setter Dan Schorr logged his 1,000th career assist in Monday’s 3-2 win over Newton South. The victory was a statement for Schorr and the Eagles (15-1), who took down a fellow top 10 member of the Globe’s Top 20.

▪ In the latest MIAA Power Rankings release, Needham (14-0) continues to rank head and shoulders above the field. To contextualize the Rockets’ dominance: their overall rating of 5.4329 is about 1.4 points ahead of second-place Westford. That same distance covers the gap between the Grey Ghosts and 11th-ranked Brookline.


Games to watch

Tuesday, Needham at Natick, 4 p.m. The No. 9 Red Hawks get a second shot at the undefeated host Rockets in this Bay State Conference showdown.

Wednesday, Milford at Medfield, 6 p.m. The top two teams in the Tri-Valley League standings meet again after the Scarlet Hawks won, 3-0, on April 13.

Wednesday, Cambridge at Newton South, 6:30 p.m. — The No. 13 Falcons ride a six-game winning streak into this road clash of Dual County League foes.

Thursday, Brookline at Newton North, 4:30 p.m. If their first meeting (a 3-2 Warriors win on April 26) is any indication, this should be an exciting Bay State Conference matchup.

Thursday, Winchester at Lexington, 5:30 p.m. After Winchester bested Lexington, 3-1, on April 28, the Minutemen now have another chance to take down their Middlesex League rival.