"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Melrose dispatched the AC cats in the sectionals, and swept the undefeated Canton Bulldogs 25-16, 25-21, and 25-18 to advance to Saturday's State Championship at Algonquin Regional High School.
Canton came in highly regarded, led by dynamic hitter Julia Murphy, a versatile All-State player and setter Kaitlin Phillips. They had an enthusiastic crowd behind them as well.
And the Bulldogs got the better of it early, as once again Melrose got off to a slow start. After ties at one through three Canton went up 5-3 as Murphy displayed her wares. But behind perhaps the story of the year, Cassidy Barbaro and her rocket serves, Melrose ran out to a 12-6 lead forcing a Canton time out. The bulldogs clawed back to 12-8 and 14-10, but another Melrose run ran the lead to 21-10 and Melrose handily took the set.
The Lady Raiders had ten kills including five from Sarah McGowan and a pair from Brooke Bell who was magnificent tonight at setter.
The second set would not be so easy. Canton raced out to a 6-2 lead, forcing an early Scott Celli timeout. Canton continued to dominate, extending the lead to 16-9. But Rachel Johnson came out of the phonebooth with an "S" on her uniform and had three massive kills near the ten foot line and Kayla Wyland and Jen Cain bombed away from the outside with a spectacular rally to tie the set at 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 before Annalisa DeBari put the cherry on top with a pair of kills and Cassidy Barbaro ran off another four service points. McGowan drove in a slide attack to win it of a pretty Bell backset.
Melrose had thirteen kills for the set, with four for Jen, three apiece for Rachel and Kayla, and a pair for Annalisa in a complete team effort.
The Bulldogs did not plan to go quietly into the night. After Melrose went up 3-1 in set three, Canton rallied to lead 10-6, only to have Melrose respond with some of their best volleyball of the season, an 11-3 run with four McGowan kills, a pair from Jen Cain, and a beautiful push from Brooke Bell. From 17-13, Canton got as close as three at 18-15, but diversified offense with kills from Kayla (two), Rachel (two), and Annalisa with a falling away cut shot got Melrose to 24-18. A final Canton attack soared long, and the celebration was on.
Game analysis: In the eleven years I've watched Melrose volleyball, it was the most complete and total team effort in victory. Aside from the expected terrific performances from All-State players Sarah and Brooke, the diversified offense from Jen, Rachel, Kayla, and Annalisa proved dramatically complementary. And in the back row, Amanda Commito, libero Jill MacInnes, and Allie Nolan were nearly flawless.
Frankly Melrose played "Secretariat" to Canton's "Sham" as far as domination in crunch time.
Melrose adds to its list of achievements:
- First Melrose team to win four sectional titles
- First Melrose team to go to two state championships
- First Melrose team to win twenty-five games
The girls will look to climb the summit Saturday.