Without a designated go-to hitter, Acton-Boxborough continues to crush it
Every girls’ volleyball team with state title hopes has a go-to hitter.
The list is impressive, from Barnstable’s Riley James and New Bedford’s Janice Leao to Aleksandra Qose (North Quincy) and Kristen O’Keefe (Arlington Catholic), along with Bourne’s Emma Fenton.
Need to close out a game? Feed the ball to your hitter for a kill.
Not for the unbeaten Acton-Boxborough girls’ volleyball team, though.
“We just have a lot of strong players with high volleyball IQs this year,” said senior captain Michelle Zhang, who leads the fourth-ranked Colonials with 86 kills.
“I don’t think it takes away from what we can do as a team that we don’t have that one dominant hitter like we did last year because it keeps defenses guessing.”
While many teams love to preach the idea of balancing their distribution of kills, few actually go out and execute the practice on the court. The best hitters tend to get the most swings, and that was no different for A-B last year with Globe All-Scholastic Danielle Beerman, who registered 380 of her team’s 699 total kills.
With her graduation, however, more than 50 percent of the Colonials’ kill shares became available for the returning underclassmen. A-B has chosen to spread the wealth, with five different players tallying more than 27 kills so far.
“For us, I think it’s really great because the other teams don’t know what to expect so it gives me so much more of a variety of where I can set,” said senior setter Anisha Mistry “I have so much more confidence in my hitters this year. I think it makes it so much tougher on the other team because they’re not sure how to defend us.”
With no one hitter drawing the consistent double blockers that Beerman frequently saw last year, Elsa MacNeil (67 kills), Justine Amory (74 kills), and Zhang have thrived.
“Obviously going to Danielle last year was really nice, but everyone knew where we were going certain moments,” said fourth-year A-B coach Darren Gwin. “Now, the blockers can’t tee up and really go after our hitters because they don’t necessarily know where the ball is going when Anisha is setting it. It’s a really nice luxury to have that, and beyond the players we have on the court, we have subs who can come in and put the ball away, too.”
The tactic has paid off for the Colonials, who sit atop the Dual County League standings at 12-0-0. A balanced attack, combined with strong defense, has the Colonials in the hunt for a DCL title in a season in which expectations outside of the program might not have been so high.
“I definitely don’t think we expected to be undefeated, but we knew we would be good,” said Zhang, who is also a staple of the back row serve/receive.
“We had such great team chemistry from day one of the season, so I think we knew we would be good.”
Vital to that success is Mistry, who has dished out 281 assists to nine different hitters with no more than 30 percent of her sets going to a specific teammate.
“There’s a new level of confidence and maturity to her,” said Gwin. “We were really structured our system last year where it was ‘OK Anisha, this is where you need to set.’
“That was something that we needed to do as a team in order to maximize our efficiency, but it’s not necessarily the most fun kind of system to play in or coach.
Allowing players to have freedom gives them more confidence, and she’s really kind of taken charge in that regard.”
The Colonials face a stiff test down the stretch — four of their five matches are against DCL teams with a .500 or better record. One is a home match against Concord-Carlisle, which handed A-B three of its five losses last year.
A-B bested the Patriots, 3-2, in their first meeting on Oct. 2, picking up their first road win against C-C since 2012.
“I think that was a really important game for us,” said Mistry.
“We hadn’t beaten them in years,” Mistry said. “It feels good to know that the underdogs this year are showing up. It felt really good to know we could play with and beat them. That gave us a lot of confidence moving forward.”
With a 3-0 sweep of Billerica on Friday, Central Catholic coach Gannon Paris picked up his 200th career win . . . In that same match, Billerica was one of numerous teams across the state to host its annual Dig Pink match through the Side-Out Foundation. Billerica and Central Catholic combined to raise $2,302.10 in support of breast cancer research, with over 15 other teams across the state running similar fundraisers . . . With New Bedford dropping its first match of the year against Dartmouth and South Shore Voc Tech losing 3-2 to Southeastern, there are currently 10 undefeated teams left in EMass: No. 1 Barnstable (13-0), No. 4 Acton-Boxborough (12-0), No. 5 Franklin (13-0), No. 6 Lawrence (13-0), No. 8 North Quincy (14-0), No. 10 Bourne (14-0), No. 11 Arlington Catholic (15-0), Essex Tech (12-0), and Tri-County (11-0).
Maddie Mantegani, Bellingham – The senior setter earned MaxPreps Massachusetts Player of the Week award with 88 assists and 13 aces in a 3-1 stretch for the Hawks.
Aleksandra Qose, North Quincy – In a 3-0 week for the undefeated Red Raiders, the senior hitter posted 44 kills.
Dasha Smolina, Winchester – In a five-set win over Melrose, Smolina collected 26 assists, five aces, and four kills, part of a 2-1 week for the Sachems.
Cierra Yim, Dartmouth – The 5-foot-2 sophomore setter dished out 37 assists to go along with 16 digs as the Indians handed New Bedford its first regular season loss since 2016 with a 3-1 win.
Games to watch
Friday, Holliston at No. 12 Medway, 6:30 p.m. – Holliston (8-3) looks to close the gap behind Medway (9-1) for second in the Tri-Valley League standings.
Friday, Haverhill at No. 6 Lawrence, 5 p.m. – The undefeated Lancers (13-0) face a stiff test in the Hillies (8-3).
Monday, Melrose at No. 11 Arlington Catholic, 5:15 p.m. – The Cougars (14-0) put their undefeated record on the line against last year’s D2 finalist Red Raiders (8-4).
Tuesday, No. 8 North Quincy at No. 1 Barnstable, 5:30 p.m. – Top-ranked Barnstable (13-0) hosts North Quincy (13-0) in a battle of undefeated Red Raider squads.
Tuesday, No. 4 Acton-Boxboro at No. 15 Lincoln-Sudbury, 4 p.m. – The undefeated Colonials (11-0) can create even more distance atop the DCL standings with a win over the Warriors (11-2).