Trio keeps Marian perfect heading into tourney
FRAMINGHAM - The trio arrived together, three girls from different towns who found a new game to play, and were surprised by the grip the sport had on them from the start.
Southborough resident Tess Anketell, Monica Hanley of Framingham, and Ashland’s Kristin Archambault played other sports when they were younger, and still do. During their freshman year at Marian High School in Framingham, the three discovered each other, and the volleyball court. But who could have anticipated the success they would find as seniors?
The Mustangs finished the regular season 18-0, champs of the Catholic Central League’s Small Division, and are awaiting the MIAA tournament, with the seeding set for Wednesday. They have been led by the three seniors, strangers four years ago, who have become best friends.
“We’re together all the time,’’ said Anketell, an outside hitter.
They’re never more together than during the contests.
“It’s the ultimate team game,’’ said fourth-year coach Todd Kirby. His players get it.
“We worked hard over the summer, but I didn’t think we’d be undefeated,’’ said the 5-foot-8 Hanley, who sets the attack for the squad. “It’s pretty amazing.’’
Archambault, a 5-foot-6 defensive specialist, has a different take. “I thought it was possible,’’ she said. “In the offseason, we played four, five times a week. We worked hard to get where we are.’’
The 5-7 Anketell wanted to play field hockey, but Marian does not field a team, so she chose volleyball. All three played on the junior varsity as freshmen. “We were learning how to play,’’ said Hanley. “We’ve grown so much. It’s fun to see.’’
“We were pretty good, that first year,’’ said Anketell. “I didn’t know anything about volleyball. It’s more intense than I thought.’’ But it’s right up in her alley. “I’m very competitive.’’
Hanley loved playing so much, she had a little secret. At the JV level, where the matches are the best of three games, “I was hoping the other team would win one game so we could keep playing,’’ said Anketell.
“She’s tough as nails,’’ said Kirby, who was not surprised when one of Marian’s assistant football coaches told him the winless team could use Anketell.
“She really gets off the ground,’’ he added. “Her vision is good. She finds the easy spot.’’
Archambault got a feel for the sport watching two cousins play volleyball at Marian.
“They were the last team to win a league championship, in 2000,’’ said Archambault.
All three seniors plan on playing volleyball in college.
“I never felt so strongly about a sport,’’ said Archambault, who also plays basketball and softball for the Mustangs.
“Kristin understands the game best of all of them,’’ said Kirby. “She’s always on the same page with me, sometimes a step ahead of me.’’
He believes Hanley should be a candidate for league MVP.
“She has amazing hands, an amazing top-spin serve,’’ said the coach. “She gets to everything. Monica sets up our hitters with perfect passes.’’
Kirby was pleased with the offseason dedication of his players, several of whom played at the Junior Olympic level. “I’ve never had so many kids play in the offseason.’’
“It’s important, the way we communicate and get along,’’ said Hanley.
The Mustangs have also received key contributions from senior middle hitter Taylor Tognacci of Hopkinton, junior outside hitter Sammy Fonseca (Holliston), and junior middle hitter Katie Rufo (Natick).
Kirby, a former assistant softball coach at Marian, was hired as the volleyball coach four years ago, when his daughter, Keliann, was a senior captain. He was a football captain at Natick High in 1982, the year the team kicked off a 38-game winning streak.
At Marian, the girls’ volleyball team went 5-11 his first season as coach, and 9-9 the next year, qualifying for the state tournament. Kirby, however, missed the postseason game; he and several buddies were at the Breeder’s Cup, a horse-racing event in California.
“We’d bought the tickets way in advance,’’ said Kirby, sheepishly. His assistant coach, Elaina Featherstone, along with his daughter, coached the team.
Last season, Marian continued its rise, finishing the regular season 15-5, but fell to unbeaten Ayer, 3-1, in the second round of the Division 3 Central tournament.
Kirby’s style and concern for his players has not been lost on the players.
“Coach is like a father to us,’’ said Hanley. “He checks on every aspect of our lives, like homework. He’s learned the game too. That’s what makes it cool.’’
“I’m still a student of the game,’’ said Kirby. “I’ve learned a lot in four years. I’ve come a long way.’’
So has his team.
Lenny Megliola can be reached at email@example.com.