METHUEN — From the opening serve, it felt as though the ninth-seeded Winchester girls’ volleyball team was destined to hold control of the service line.
Led by dominant serving and 18 kills from senior captain Lauren Tian, the Red and Black swept No. 8 Methuen, 25-14, 25-18, 25-18, in a Division 1 second-round match at Methuen High.
For 12th-year Winchester head coach John Fleming, aggressive serving was a key part of his team’s game plan, and it paid dividends.
“[Methuen senior Samantha Driend] in particular is a phenomenal individual player,” Fleming said. “We wanted to try to limit her attempts as much as possible because we know how dynamic she is. So we thought if we could serve them really tough, that might limit her amount of attempts, and luckily it did.”
Driend, last year’s Merrimack Valley Conference MVP was limited to just 11 kills for the Rangers (19-3). The aggressive serving also resulted in 10 aces for the Red and Black (20-2), including four from sophomore libero Margo Kaduson.
When the Rangers did manage to return Winchester’s serve, Kaduson (19 digs) was there to counter for the Red and Black. Once the Winchester offense got set up, Tian found the ball floating over towards her frequently and she executed.
“Lauren is certainly one of the best players in the state,” Fleming said. “She’s tremendous for us and in big spots she makes big plays. As a high school athlete, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Big moments, big opportunities, and then to follow through and she’s done that since her freshman year.”
The first set saw the Red and Black establish themselves at the service line. Though they only registered two aces in the set, they forced the Rangers into difficult returns, leading to quick points from errors and Tian kills (three in the set).
Tian took over the second set, as Winchester’s all-time leader in kills amassed 11 kills as the Red and Black pulled away. Kaduson supplied three of her aces in the middle set as well, including two in a row during a 5-0 run.
In the third, the Red and Black jumped out to a 7-1, and then a 15-4 lead. Though the Rangers pulled a few points back near the end of the set, it was too late for a comeback.
Senior setter Ruby Woodward supplied 28 assists, senior middle hitter Vivian Newman added seven kills and two blocks, and junior opposite hitter Gabrielle Williams notched eight kills and two aces for the Red and Black, who advanced to the state quarterfinal at No. 1 Newton North. With a win on the road Tuesday night, Fleming knows the experience his team gained from playing in Methuen will help going forward.
“Anytime you can play well on the road in a state tournament, it gives you a chance to build a little confidence and, you know, we know what’s ahead of us,” Fleming said. “We know what we’re in for [against Newton North] and hopefully today was a little bit of a confidence boost that we can play with some of those top teams in the state.”