The Winchester boys’ volleyball team has switched its rotation alignment from a 6-2 to a more traditional 5-1 approach.
But make no mistake, the third-ranked Sachems are far from traditional.
“Our coach always stresses how important it is for us to be able to play anywhere,” said Winchester senior captain David Williams.
“In volleyball, if you get one bad touch or save and the setter has to pass it and you’re out of system, a lot of teams will have to just send a free ball over and then the play is dead. When you have players who are able to do multiple things like we have, it makes us a lot more of a threat. We can constantly put pressure on the other team and stay on the attack.”
The 6-2 utilizes uses six hitters and two setters, depending on where players are in their rotation. The 5-1 set features five hitters and one setter for all six rotations. That scheme has allowed senior Justin Ong to settle in as the team’s lone setter.
“One of the things that we talk about for all our guys in our program is to be willing and able to play multiple spots,” said Winchester coach John Fleming .
“I think that speaks to our strength, the fact that we have guys that can hit from multiple spots, in the back row and obviously at the net. Having to defend a team like that, we know it’s really challenging.”
Versatility is the key for the Sachems.
And nowhere is that more evident than with captain Val Soltan . Even though he has settled in as an outside hitter this season, the senior served as the second setter last year, with 157 kills and 359 assists. Junior outside hitter James Chung also has experience setting. And Williams slides over to a middle blocker spot after playing outside last season.
It’s not positionless volleyball for the Sachems, who have been playing minus defensive specialist/libero Nico Barlos (injury) through the first two weeks of the season.
Fleming has trust in the ability of his players to perform well at all spots on the court. While it is common practice to sub out some middles when they rotate into the back row, Fleming trusts the ball-handling ability of his senior-laden core.
Serving as the fulcrum is Ong, who is primed to increase his assist total (346 last season) from a year ago after splitting duties with Soltan. Ong has grown comfortable finding his teammates all over the court.
“It makes a big difference that basically everyone on the court for us at a given time can actually deliver a great set to one of our hitters,” said Fleming.
“We haven’t always been in that spot where guys have been really comfortable. If someone tries to go at Justin as our setter and he ends up having to play the first ball, we have guys who can really do a nice job making that set and still being in the attack mode. Not everyone can do that, but having guys with good hands as our other hitters make a big difference.”
The versatile approach has paid off for the Sachems in a 5-0 start.
“We’re really more than just 5-0,” said Williams.
“We really believe that we have something going here. This team has played with each other for a while. Our coach really put in the effort to schedule some tough teams. If there’s a year to make something happen, this is it.”
■ Winchester will host the first round of the Spike Out ALS Volleyball Tournament on Wednesday. At 10 a.m., second-ranked Needham plays No. 12 Wayland in a rematch of last year’s state semifinals, with the host Sachems taking on North sectional finalist Andover at noon. The championship and consolation games will take place the following day at Needham High. All funds raised will support ALS ONE in an effort to combat Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“What I wanted to do was make it a competitive tournament with some of the best teams in the area,” said Fleming.
“For us from a competitive standpoint, we’re going to play two great games regardless of who we play. And I think it should feel like a true tournament game and having other teams watch you and being able to scout, it should give us that beginning feeling of a tournament environment.”
■ BC High is off to an improbable 6-0 start to take control of the Western Alliance after a 3-15 showing last season. The Eagles are one of just six undefeated teams left in EMass, joining Natick (6-0), Needham (5-0), Winchester (5-0), North Quincy (5-0), and Taunton (5-0) . . . After a few subpar seasons, including an 8-11 showing last year, Lincoln-Sudbury appears to be back. The Warriors sit atop the deep DCL at 5-1 overall after handing Newton South its first loss of the year; the lone blemish a five-set loss to Boston Latin. Holding on won’t be easy, as Newton South, Boston Latin, Wayland, Acton-Boxborough, Westford, and Cambridge all possess the ability to win any given matchup.
Players of the Week
Dominic Banor, Acton-Boxborough — The senior outside hitter logged a career-high 23 kills in a 3-2 win over No. 9 Boston Latin, part of a 3-0 week for the Colonials.
Eric Chabon, Brookline — He logged 26 kills to spearhead the Warriors’ rally from a 2-0 deficit for a five-set win against No. 11 Braintree.
Pat Downey, BC High — The setter dished out 32 assists in a win over St. John’s Shrewsbury, part of a 2-0 week for the unbeaten Eagles.
Jake Fleming, Norwood — The senior outside hitter slammed 26 kills in a 3-0 TVL sweep of Norton.
Cam Robins, Needham — The middle hitter secured 16 kills in a sweep of No. 19 Wellesley in a 3-0 week for the second-ranked Rockets (5-0).
Games of the Week
Wednesday, Needham vs. Wayland, 10 a.m. — The defending North and South champions clash at Winchester High in a rematch of last year’s state semifinals.
Wednesday, BC High at Lexington, 10 a.m. — The undefeated Eagles (6-0) take on a strong Minutemen (5-1) squad in a key nonleague clash.
Thursday, Wellesley at Newton South, 10 a.m. — The Lions have come out strong, defying expectations. The Raiders, meanwhile, have not lived up to their preseason expectations so far.
Thursday, Greater New Bedford at Framingham, 12 p.m. — The 15th-ranked Flyers (4-3) continue their challenging schedule by welcoming the No. 8 Bears (4-1).
Thursday, Central Catholic at St. John’s Prep, 4 p.m. — Both the No. 16 Raiders and Eagles are off to slow starts. But a win for either is a jump-start.Dan McLoone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.