DANVERS — The Lynnfield volleyball team punched its ticket to the Division 2 North final with a 3-0 semifinal-round win over Melrose Thursday night at Danvers High.
Despite the straight-set win, Pioneers coach Brent Ashley admitted this one was far from easy. The Red Raiders made Lynnfield earn every set win with scores of 25-19, 25-23, 25-22.
“Melrose is so well-coached,” Ashley said. “They have such a legacy and a history of always being in this. I fully expected them to make changes every single set, which they did. We got lucky that we were able to adjust to what (Melrose coach Scott Celli) had.”
Ashley admits he leaned on his baseball background to help design Thursday’s game plan. Lynnfield came into the match knowing Melrose’s height was its strength. So the Pioneers found ways to put the ball in the gaps, where the Red Raiders couldn’t get to it.
“We’re fast,” Ashley, who coaches Lynnfield’s freshman baseball team and assists the varsity squad, said. “The more height you have, I think the slower you are generally. Their middle was just a hair slower than our tempo. I’m a baseball guy, so I carry that mentality constantly. We don’t go after players, we got after their seams. Like in baseball, you want to hit it between the gaps.”
Melissa Morelli led Lynnfield with 14 kills, 14 assists and five digs.
“I’ve had Melissa for four years,” Ashley said. “She’s won pretty much every accolade you can think of but she’s also a great human. She’s a great team player. She knows how to take care of the team, she knows how to fire everybody up.”
Ella Gizmunt, a freshman, added 12 kills, five digs and three aces.
“Ella has grown so much over the past two or three matches,” Ashley said.
Sam Lebruska (10 digs, eight kills, two aces), Ashley Pagliuca (10 digs) and Sofia Ciriello (eight digs) also played well.
No. 1 Lynnfield will play No. 3 Danvers Saturday (3) at Tewksbury High in a battle of unbeaten teams. The winner will advance to the Division 2 state semifinal.
“Danvers is a special team,” Ashley said. “(Danvers coach) George (LeVasseur) and I coach in similar club environments. We’ve coached some of the same players. We know each other super well. That’s kind of the nice thing about the North volleyball, we all know each other really, really well.”
The first set was indicative of how the match would go. In a back-and-forth start, both teams matched each other point for point. Lynnfield started to distance itself with a 17-14 edge, forcing the No. 5 Red Raiders to talk things over with a timeout. But the break didn’t help Melrose get back on track as Lynnfield took the set 25-19.
It was much of the same at the start of the second set. The Pioneers grabbed a 14-11 lead and Melrose, struggling to build a lead, burned another timeout. Melrose’s break paid dividends this time as the Red Raiders took the next two points, closing the gap to 14-13. They picked things up from there, building an 18-16 advantage and forcing Lynnfield to use a timeout. Lynnfield closed the set on a 9-5 run for the 2-0 match lead.
Needing a late rally to keep their season alive, the Red Raiders sprinted out to a 5-0 lead in the third set. Lynnfield weathered the storm and grabbed its first lead of the set at 13-12. The Pioneers sensed it from there, fought a late Melrose surge and took the 25-22 set win for the match victory.