The Melrose girls’ volleyball team trailed Middlesex League rival Woburn, 2-0, entering the third set of Wednesday’s match.
Were the Red Raiders finally revealing the impact of graduating four starters from last year’s squad that won the Division 2 North title and advanced to the state final? Not yet.
A Division 1 finalist last year after a 22-3 showing, Hopkinton, ranked No. 4 in the Globe Top 20 volleyball rankings, is another winning program undergoing a transition similar to Melrose’s.
Sans any seniors on the 2018 edition, Melrose buckled down and roared back from its two-set deficit against Woburn, polishing off an impressive 17-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-13 victory for a 3-0 start.
“I think we’re a little bit more experienced than people think,” said Melrose coach Scott Celli, whose team is ranked No. 9 in the Globe Top 20. “That being said, we still have a lot of growing up to do. We still need to learn the system and find out who we are. I think we can be a very good team, but we have to get through those growing pains at the beginning of the season.”
Lily Fitzgerald , a Globe All-Scholastic setter, headlined the list of grads from a 24-3 team. And with no seniors this fall, the Red Raiders are leaning on junior tri-captains Erin Torpey , Emma Randolph , and Nicole Abbott to continue Melrose’s winning culture.
But even with the departures the Red Raiders are not rebuilding, just reloading.
“A lot of people really stepped up this year,” said Abbott, a 16-year-old libero.
“We all basically knew that there were jobs to fill and someone had to fill [them]. I think everyone really went after that . . . All of us came in knowing there was a job to be filled and we had to do our best at it.
“We all have the same goal, which is to win the last match and the last game,” Abbott said. “We have the same level of confidence and nothing is really holding us back.”
At Hopkinton, the Hillers won the Division 2 title in 2016 before falling to Newton North in the D1 final last November. They were led by six senior starters, including former All-Scholastics Rachel Zale and Amanda Gilbert ,
But, despite those departures, Hopkinton is determined to contend again.
“Being able to play against those really competitive girls last year who were on our team definitely was a huge help for the returning players,” said senior captain Jenna Willwerth .
“Being able to translate that energy into this year’s team and show the younger sophomores what our standards are and how high our energy is definitely is what the returners are trying to do.”
The approach is working thus far.
Willwerth and fellow captains Lydia Rudden and Mia Ardilla have paced the defending Tri-Valley League champs to a 3-0 start.
Sustaining success starts with the youth program.
Coach Margie Grabmeier has made a point to establish a connection and cultivate a desire to play with the local kids, running youth clinics and providing practice and game opportunities for middle school players.
“The sub-varsity program is really strong,” said Grabmeier.
“We have excellent coaches and they’re getting these players ready to play at the varsity level . . . The younger players, they start in elementary school and they’re associating and making connections with these varsity players,” the coach said.
“They look up to them, and then they want to follow in their footsteps,” Grabmeier continued. “Really, it’s not as much of a year-to-year thing as it is this program feeding itself from the youth on up.”
Players of the Week
Games to watch
Friday, Franklin at Canton, 4 p.m. – Two undefeated Hockomock teams square off in an early-season test.
Monday, Bourne at Case, 6 p.m. – The past two winners of the Division 3 South tournament, the two undefeated sides will battle in South Coast Conference play.
Monday, Barnstable at Newton North, 5:30 p.m. – The top two teams in the state square off in what could be a preview of the Division 1 state final.
Monday, Hopkinton at Medway, 6:30 p.m. – An early-season battle for Tri-Valley supremacy featuring two undefeated sides.
Wednesday, Barnstable at Dartmouth, 5:30 p.m. – A strong Dartmouth squad gets a first look at whether it has closed the gap in the Old Colony hierarchy.Dan McLoone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.