Donning fluorescent-yellow T-shirts, the Central Catholic players were sacrificing their bodies, sprawling to the door to maintain possession during the girls’ volleyball practice Saturday morning.
The name of the game: “Hitters Under.”
In the drill, seven girls took their places on one side of the net and three others waited on the other side. The objective is to keep the ball up in the air for 20 touches, with the four hitters along the net running and helping out both sides of the net.
“We’ve been playing really well together lately and the drill is meant to help us get used to the new faces on the team while maintaining good possession,” said Central Catholic senior captain Claire Foggo, a 6-foot right-side hitter/setter.
Central may be introducing a few new faces to replace key graduation losses, including four starters, but the Raiders are determined to prove that last year’s 20-3 run to the Division 1 state final against Barnstable was not a fluke.
“I think it’s a good thing that we feel that we’re the underdogs,” said senior libero Michelle Bouchard.
“We didn’t think we would make it to the state finals last year, and this brings us back down to really focus on how we got there in the first place.” Two of the grads, Alexis Michal (Keene State) and Hunter Tuck (Stonehill), are playing collegiately as freshmen.
The Raiders are off to a 5-1 start after a 3-0 win over Tewksbury Monday night, but will be tested early against unbeaten Andover Friday night.
“The girls know what they need to do to win,” said Central Catholic coach Gannon Paris. “They need to trust each other, not get down on themselves when they make a mistake, and really focus on sound team fundamentals. But I like what I see so far.”
Andover (6-0) is another Division 1 contender. The Golden Warriors finished 20-2 last fall, losing to Central Catholic in the Division 1 North final.
“We have a lot of girls stepping up their games and we’re getting some great leadership from our captains, Liz Wait and Lauren Murtagh,” said Andover coach George Sullivan.
“When we played against North Andover, we won the first two sets, then lost the next two, and won the last one. So being able to be consistent will come with time, and the more these girls play together.”
With the return of Brooke Bell, a senior captain, Melrose once again will be a major factor in Division 2. Bell registered 596 assists and 64 kills in the Red Raiders’ march to the state final, where Melrose (23-2) lost to Marlborough, 3-1.
“This team is defensively the best team I’ve ever had,” said coach Scott Celli.
“We have seven seniors and 10 kids back, so the experience they got from the run last year is definitely going to show.’’
The Red Raiders started the season 7-0, and with Bell on pace to break Melrose’s all-time assists record (1,648 by Colleen Hanscom), the squad is ready to make another deep run.
“We know that the defense is going to be our strong suit this season,” said the coach. “But intangibly, the girls need to work on not taking sets off and really playing every point equally, because that’s what championship teams do.”
Lynnfield is rebuilding after graduating five starters from a 23-1 squad.
“The communication aspect of things is definitely one of the challenges when you have a team still getting used to each other,” said coach Michelle Perrone.
The Pioneers have just three seniors on the quad, but have won six of their first seven matches.
“Every year, the team grows closer and closer together, but each day we learn something new,” said the coach. “The experience from last year’s tournament that some girls have will hopefully be able to be used in teaching the younger players some things to help that chemistry.”
Ryan MacInnis can be reached at email@example.com.