With the 2012 season coming to a close, the eyes and ears of everyone, volleyball fans or not, were pointed at two teams. One being the seemingly untouchable Milford team, lead by captains Alex Wasik and Dan Seaver. With nothing except emotion and a cause, they took the court against the Cambrige, who seemed like a normal team with an all-star. In one of the most exciting sporting events to happen, Goliath fell. Now what?
With Cambridge losing everyone except Bonates and Penrose, they were going to struggle getting either of them the ball. Milford, however, was able to set up an offense. They return the starting libero in Kevin Marshall, setter in Timothy MacMannis, middle in Michael Soares and all-star right side Kane Wittorff, as well as having a 6'3" outside come off and play a big role in Michael Antonellis. Milford was looking to be on top and here is where we start the 2013 season:
South: For people who know how the south works, its pretty simple...Newton is the word. From North to South and back again, these two teams have ran the south section for years. 2012 saw a class with incredible talent, not to mention a star outside in Luke Westman, leave North. This set it up for South to take control, that was not the case. South section was competitive throughout the entire season. Newton South got off to a great start and never looked back. Across town, North hit a few bumps in the road, but were not going to give up. They hung in for the 5 seed. But here came Needham! They took care of what they needed to the whole season, but when the final whistle blew, they were just 1 game shy of the number 1 seed. North Quincy had a great year finishing at 16-4, but do not let this record fool you. Teams from South Alliance do not see much competition, as you can tell by the 3 seed being downed in their first playoff game. Norwood had a great season as well as they secured the 4 seed, but got caught up as Newton North was able to take them out in the semis. Great seasons as well from Greater New Bedford and Wellesley as they both were able to make playoffs and turn some heads. However, come time for semis, there were 3 teams ready to take it. A hometown battle ended in a 3-2 end of Newton North's season at the hands of Newton South and the match was set. Newton South vs. Needham in a game that everyone wanted to see. South seemed like they had control, but Needham kicked it up a few notches with great blocking and offense to take home the south championship.
North: Always one of the biggest and most competitive brackets that we see did not disappoint. All top 7 seeds in this bracket were teams that deserved to hoist that trophy. Westford Academy's record does not describe their team well. The grey ghosts are never afraid to take on a powerhouse, and can compete with anyone who comes across their path. I saw Lexington and Acton-Boxboro both as great teams in a tough section. Both teams show impressive athleticism and can hang with who they face. Both teams would have faired even better in any other bracket, but the north has too many good teams for a Cinderella story from either one. State champion Cambridge, lead by Penn State commit Jalen Penrose and Sacred Heart hopeful Rodolfo Bonates, were able to carry the team to the 4 seed and the district semi-finals, but without much depth, the team could only go so far. Chelmsford showing off their talent level by picking up the 3 seed and a semi-final appearance, but just could not get past the height of Prep. Prep was a team that had so much depth and height that they dominated teams at the net and forced others to make mistakes. This earned them a shot at the title against #1 Lawrence. Lawrence had fans for the past 4 years seeing double. Jeyson and Anibal Henriquez are two insanely talented players. This tag team was a 1 2 punch that was not going to go down without a fight. Prep's size at the net did not stop them once they got into their groove. Lawrence came out 3-1 as north champs!
Central: Short, but sweet is the only way I can think to describe central. The central district baffles me. They are always able to send out a team that can dominate and compete to hold the trophy, yet the other teams around them cannot seem the compete. Natick had one of it's worst years in a decade at least, and still made the tournament and made it to the semis! I only saw one good team in central. Medfield was able to keep the ball in play, which puts them at a level to compete game by game, but the 3-0 sweep in the district championship says it all. Wachusett has athletes, give them a year or two and they will be a good team, but for now, no one was going to compete with Milford. Lead by a team of 4 returning starters and a junior all-star off the bench, Milford looked like they were going to roll undefeated again! This came to a screech when Wittorff went down with a knee injury ending his season. However, Milford turned to Antonellis as their go to guy and a sophomore, Erik Vega, to pick it up. As the season went on, they took a bump from Lawrence, but settled into cruise as they did not lose a set in the central playoffs. Back to back central champions went to the Scarlet Hawks.
West: This is where kids learn to hit the ball. West is not known for a lot of championships or a lot of defense, but kids out west can jump and hit, and hit hard! With only 10 teams making into the west tourney, it's always a competitive few weeks. Western Mass has power rankings to decide seeds, this gives the better teams the actual advantage. However, three western teams really stand out. Agawam, Ludlow and Westfield all had incredible years. Westfield has talent in the front row that keeps the other teams on their toes. A solid middle attack as well as good outside hitters pushed them to face Ludlow in the semis, but this is where Ludlow's defense came in. Big digs and blocks all around forced Westfield to have to play the ball more than they wanted to. There were just too many mistakes to recover from. Ludlow then took on the top seeded Brownies from Agawam. But there was no contest once the Brownies got rolling. Ludlow's height disadvantage cause a lot of trouble up front when you play against a player like Frederick who can hit his spots from the middle. Agawam hoists their west trophy up with pride.
State Semis: Milford/Lawrence
Filling in Hudson were shades of black and red as central champs Milford took on north champs Lawrence. A motivated and energetic Lawrence crowd were loud and proud throughout the gym during the match, but Milford struck first posting a 25-21 win in game 1. Lawrence came right back trying to send a message with a 25-17 win. The looks on the faces of Milford players looked down, but they found motivation quickly in the 3rd game as they dominated and looked to be sitting in the driver's seat after the 25-15 win. Now down 2-1 Lawrence had some ground to make up. A few missed serves gave them the chance and they were able to come back 25-22 to force a fifth set. Both teams now looking for a way to get balanced, they headed back out. Milford came right out of the gate to an 8-3 margin, before a period of trading points left Milford up 14-9. With this lead, the Milford fans came to their feet and watched one serve, then two then the score become 14-13. With the pressure now on, Milford needed some magic. Adam Zouranjian got the set from MacMannis and as the ball went up, you could hear a pin drop. The next thing you heard was the cheers and celebration as Milford was headed back to the state championship!
As the game began, I thought about getting my money back as the western champion brownies rolled! Ball after ball going down and Needham seemed like they had no answer. Agawam dominated the first two games winning 25-9 and 25-13. However, the rockets were not going to go out that easily! As Agawam settled down and started to take their opponents too lightly, Needham picked it up and used their height and defense to earn back the next two sets 25-21 and then 25-17. It seemed as though Agawam may have run out of gas and that this was going to be the comeback of the year! But the Brownies weren't done as they kicked out to a 6-2 lead to start the 5th game. With both teams knowing what was at stake, the teams battled back and forth, but Agawam just had little more at the end as the squeezed out the 15-13 victory and headed to their first state championship ever!
State Finals: Milford/Agawam
A familiar sight was what you were first embraced with when you walked in. A sea of red called the Milford faithful packed into Babson College for the second straight year. An experienced Milford team stepped out onto the court opposite the western champs. Run after run was the only way to describe this match up. Milford jumped out early 3-0 on Agawam errors, but the brownies came back, and as mistakes ran wild, the first game fell into the hands of Milford 25-21. Different game, same story though as Agawam came to take game two 25-21. Milford ramped up game three on five Michael Antonellis kills to make it 8-2, but a 9-2 Agawam run gave them the lead once again. The teams went back and forth before a few Milford errors gave Agawam game three 25-21. Now it was crunch time for the Hawks. They gave themselves great space in this one, going up six at 17-11. A couple traded points and it seemed we were headed to game five as Milford was up 20-14. But a breakdown on the Milford side combined with an explosive Agawam offense gave the Brownies an 11-3 run and their first ever state championship! Agawam came out as one of the strongest teams at the net and showed it off throughout their post season run! Milford came back from a huge loss of their best player to earn a state championship bid. Agawam fans and players were walking on clouds as they hoisted that elusive state championship trophy!
Congrats to all players, coaches and teams on their seasons!