Samantha Lebruska and the Pioneers defeated Swampscott in straight sets. (Item Photo by Katie Morrison)

Lynnfield bumps Swampscott out in first round

LYNNFIELD -- Thursday's Division 2 North first round game featured two volleyball teams in very different places.

Lynnfield, a perennial playoff contender, is coming off an appearance in the Division 3 state semifinals last season, and adjusting to life in Division 2 after being moved up.

Swampscott hasn't made a playoff appearance since 2013, overcoming a couple down years to make it back to the tournament.

In the end, No. 5 Lynnfield's experience won out, as the Pioneers swept No. 12 Swampscott, 3-0, by set scores of 25-9, 25-11 and 25-16.

The Big Blue got stronger as the match went on, perhaps as some of the team's nerves evaporated.

"Nerves have a lot to do with it when you get into something like this. As much as you try and tell them it's just another game, it's not," Swampscott coach Chip Emery said. "They end up trying to play safe, and we make mistakes. It's all about unforced errors, and the more you try not to make them, the more they make them."

Lynnfield made quick work of Swampscott in set one, relying on a strong serving game to create distance for the entire set.

"That's kind of what we've done all season, come out strong in the first set," Lynnfield coach Michelle Perrone said. "We know what our strategy is and try to execute it well. Sometimes we fall asleep a little bit in the second and third sets, but they fight back, so I'm proud of that."

Set two was a closer affair, albeit not for long. Lynnfield staked a 9-2 lead as Emory Caswell and Samantha Lebruska came up with a nice block, but Swampscott's Alexa Winter stole a bit of the momentum back with a kill. Katelyn O'Keefe delivered a couple of service points to make it 10-5, but solid serving from Ali McPherson and Elana Kotler helped the Pioneers pull away. Maxine Boyle slammed down a kill to make it 19-11, and eight straight service points from Melissa Morelli allowed Lynnfield to close out the set.

"It's big, Melissa always comes up big for us," Perrone said. "She's only a sophomore, but she's been doing this forever, so she's one of our go-to players when we need something. Same thing with Maxine (Boyle), she always comes up with some timely hits for us and kind of turns the tide when we need it."

The third set was the closest of the evening, but Lynnfield refused to let the Big Blue steal a game. It was back-and-forth through the first few points, but Lynnfield maintained a three to four- point lead throughout the bulk of the set.

Big plays by the front line, namely Caswell, Lebruska, Boyle and Morelli bumped the Pioneers lead to 20-13 as unforced errors hurt the Big Blue.

But Swampscott hung tight until the end. In one of the best volleys of the game, O'Keefe made a diving save to extend the volley, then Cassidy Ryan returned a bullet of a hit from Boyle, but Lynnfield held on to win the point and go up 22-16.

Four service points from Lebruska was enough to close out the set and match for Lynnfield.

"There were times where they let themselves go, and played aggressive, and that's how they've been playing most of the year," Emery said of his team. "But first time in the tournament, they were all very nervous. I was nervous!"

The Pioneers will take on the winner of Friday's contest between No. 4 Danvers and No. 13 Fenwick.

Perrone says that Lynnfield has familiarity not just with Danvers and Fenwick, but many Division 2 teams.

"Both teams have a lot of history and a solid program, and we'll be sure to go check that game out (tonight)," Perrone said. "We play a lot of these teams during the regular season, non-league or scrimmage, so we know what to expect, but it is always nice to get our first win in Division 2 under our belts."

For Swampscott, the successful season ends at 9-8, and with just four seniors graduating and the bulk of the roster returning in 2018, the future looks bright for the Big Blue.

"It's been one of our best seasons," Emery said. "I have a very young team. Next year we'll be a lot stronger. We were fortunate to get a lot of (underclassmen) in today, and it was a good experience for them."


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