LYNN — Given the turnover the Classical volleyball team underwent after graduating a great senior class last season, coach Frank DeLuca felt there might be a learning process in 2019. Perhaps his Rams are simply fast learners.
At 8-1 on the season, Classical’s running toward the top of the Northeastern Conference.
“I’m a little surprised at how well we’re playing,” DeLuca said. “The players I expected to step up, Kiara Edmonds and Jean Gupton-Morrison, have improved so much since last year. I knew we were solid with Amber Crayton and Pamela Diaz. Junior Cherish Nwoko, I couldn’t have dreamed of how well she’s playing. Sophomore Chloe Clement’s playing better than I thought she would. Junior Brooke Warren’s having a great season.”
The Rams are approaching the midway point of their schedule but they’re already two wins away from qualifying for the state tournament. It would be their sixth consecutive postseason trip.
“That’s the No.1 goal but we don’t want to look too far ahead,” DeLuca said. “We have to take it one game at a time. We’ve had huge wins against Marblehead and Peabody. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and everything falls in place. We’re not good enough to take anybody for granted. We have the City Tournament at the end of the year and then we’ll see how far we can go when we get to states.”
The team’s success starts with leadership. Captains Diaz, Crayton, Edmonds and Gupton-Morrison have provided that from the very beginning.
“They’ve brought great leadership, helping bring the younger players along,” DeLuca said. “When times get tough they say, ‘hey let’s calm things down and let’s focus.’ Their leadership on and off the court has been great this year. I’m very happy with our captains.”
On the court, Classical’s service game has been a major strongpoint. Diaz, Crayton and Warren have stepped up as three of Classical’s top servers.
“They’re doing very well,” DeLuca said. “They’re having a very good year. I hope they keep it up. The other three servers, Edmonds, Gupton-Morrison and Kristen Brazell, they’ve all had points where they’ve stepped up. At points where we’ve really needed them, they’ve come forward. I feel comfortable with all six of our servers.”
Cherish Nwoko leads the forwards.
“Cherish is averaging double-figures in kills per match but everyone else has contributed close to double-digits or near there,” DeLuca said. “Cherish has come a long way with a big improvement from last year. I knew she had the potential but now she’s putting it all together.
“You never know who’s going to get the kill. We don’t have that great forward who gets 100 kills but they all contribute. That makes it hard to play against us, because you never know who’s going to get that kill.”
Despite the ideal start, DeLuca feels there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We haven’t been playing as well as I think we can be playing,” DeLuca said. “I don’t think the girls realize how good they can play. We haven’t played many clean games. We’ve committed some unforced errors. If we can clean those up, I think we can play better and cleaner. I don’t know if we’ll win more games or not. If we want to make noise in the tournament, we need to start now.”
But he likes the mental toughness his Rams have shown throughout the season. When opponents make things challenging, Classical digs deep to get the job done.
“It’s a game of momentum,” DeLuca said. “There’s a lot of changes in rotation. If you give up a point, then the other team changes rotations and brings in its top server, and that makes a difference. We’ve gained a lot of mental toughness. The girls proved that against Swampscott last week. They battled through that whole match and refused to lose.”
Classical has two tough NEC opponents on the docket this week. The Rams travel to Beverly Wednesday (5:30) and host Danvers Friday (5:30).
“Hopefully we can keep improving game by game,” DeLuca said. “Hopefully we can reach our maximum potential and see where that takes us.”