Two years ago, officials at Concord-Carlisle sought a change in the school’s volleyball program. Suffice to say, Jim Crandall could not have been more fit for the job.
Crandall has played and officiated the sport, not to mention has coached it for 22 years.
“It’s a matter of commitment, intensity, and seriousness that I make a point in my approach to teaching volleyball as a visual motor skill,” he said.
For Crandall, preparation is key and this year’s squad got a head start with the program’s first-ever preseason camp, he said, with participation in the Gold Medal Squared volleyball clinic that runs camps for college and high school programs.
And as far as goals go, Crandall has his squad set their own. At the beginning of the year, his girls filled out information cards with a team consensus to aspire to play like Olympians Misty May and Kerry Walsh.
The Patriots had the preseason practice, an experienced coach, and a group of upper classmen eager to reach the postseason, a goal the Patriots have reached in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
What nobody saw coming was a rash of injuries.
Senior setter Madison Creighton was robbed of her chance of 500 career assists after breaking her right thumb on a block in the second match of the season.
“She eats and sleeps volleyball,” Crandall said of Creighton, who helped during summer camps, “You don’t get that player all the time.”
Creighton was last season’s Dual County League MVP and All-Star. She is being recruited by Division 3 schools.
Regardless of her injury, Creighton has shown vigor, attempting to hit lefthanded during practices and adding her voice and wisdom from the bench during games.
Crandall is anticipating a return for senior night, next Monday, against Bedford.
Filling in for Creighton was Ellie Blue, the lone sophomore on the team.
“Ellie has had her plate more than full. She stepped up and I was hoping she would get a little experience her first year on varsity, definitely more than we planned for,” said Crandall.
Blue has shown steady improvement and has collected 41 aces.
“She’s really come a long way in developing leadership on the court. She had a really nice jump float serve like a laser. It’s why we pulled off our victory over Wayland with her serving a lot of points in the final sets,” said Crandall.
Blue also suffered a thumb injury, testing the Patriots depth, with junior setter Blair Kimble stepping in.
Ellie’s sister, Samantha, who plays outside, had to leave a the game after feeling sick, leading to more rotation shifts, but the Patriots were able to come back after losing the first two sets to earn 3-2 victory over Wayland.
“The comeback against Wayland was really phenomenal. Their flexibility and the fact that they’ve been put in different roles shows they’re really pulling for each other,” he said.
Concord-Carlisle’s versatility has kept the team afloat at 7-7 overall, 6-4 in the Dual County League, as they stand two games away from clinching a postseason spot. The core offensive strength has been in junior middle hitter Margaret O’Brien (91 kills, 45 aces), senior outside hitter Kelsey Bjornson (80 kills) and Samantha Blue (52 kills). Senior libero Stephanie Bolster, a transfer from South Carolina, leads in digs (18).
“If we can stay as healthy as we are, that’s been the big ‘if,’ and if we play with the energy and enthusiasm we showed against Wayland, I feel very confident,” said Crandall.
Coincidentally, Crandall, too, is suffering an injury. Crandall has been coaching with a torn meniscus. But he doesn’t plan on surgery until after the season.
Games of the week
No. 1 Barnstable at Westboro, Mon., 5 p.m. – The end of Barnstable’s schedule will not be a cakewalk with Westboro starting the end of the season stretch. Westboro (12-3) is one of the most elite programs in Division 2 with leaders in each category topping Barnstable’s squad. Samantha Kehoe (179 kills) and Addie D’Luzansky (221 digs) will be players to watch out for.
No. 5 Newton North at No. 1 Barnstable, 4 p.m. – Newton North’s only loss was to fourth-ranked Lincoln-Sudbury and since then, the Tigers (13-1) have gone unbeaten in 18 straight sets. The Red Raiders remain undefeated at 12-0 and has a squad that ranks first in the state with Regan Bristol leading the team with 134 kills and Kayla Crook posting 363 assists.
No. 15 Bishop Fenwick at No. 19 Lynnfield, 5 p.m. – This will be a tight contest after Lynnfield pushed the Crusaders to five sets in their last matchup (25-11,11-25, 25-23, 18-25, 15-13) despite the loss. The Crusaders (13-4) are stacked with talent with Kate Lipka collecting 207 kills this season and Olivia Morsey (384 digs) and Tessa McLaughling (366 assists) leading in their respective categories. Lynnfield has posted seven consecutive wins since their last matchup.
No. 20 Central Catholic at No. 3 Andover, Fri., 6 p.m. – Undefeated Andover (16-0) took on Central Catholic in a 3-2 nailbiter (25-19, 19-25, 18-25, 25-20, 15-11) earlier this season. This time, Andover has home court advantage and the Golden Warriors have gone nine straight sets since. Central Catholic is going to need to put up a strong defensive effort to stop Liz Wait and Molly Cronin who combined for 28 kills in their last matchup.
No. 17 Notre Dame of Hingham at No. 7 Medfield, Fri., 6:30 p.m – Medfield grabbed the 3-2 win in this earlier matchup (24-26, 25-16, 18-25, 25-19, 15-12) with Alex McDevitt’s 17 kills. The Cougars (10-4) have quality wins this season against Frontier, Case and Westborough, illustrating they’re a contender.