The Mustangs may have won the initial battle, but the Lions ultimately won the war.
The ninth-ranked Medford High volleyball team was bumped off by eighth-seed Newton South, 3-1, in the first round of the Division 1 Central/East State Tournament, Nov. 2.
Coach Taylor Dyer’s Mustangs entered the contest determined to make a statement taking the first match, but Newton South battled back winning three straight sets to pull off the come-from-behind victory.
“We won the first match and the girls were playing great,” Dyer said. “I felt as confident as they did at the end, but unfortunately in the second match we let them get ahead of us and couldn't catch up. I think that's when the momentum faded and the girls just couldn't bounce back, but they gave it everything they had and fought to the last point.”
Senior captain Shannon Hardy led the attack for Medford, arguably playing her best game of the season.
“She was so tough defensively, and had a really good read on the Newton's hitters,” Dyer said. “She was picking up almost everything they were putting down.”
MaKenzie Eisnor also rose to the occasion. Primarily a depth player, she showed remarkable poise in postseason play.
“She didn't see a lot of playing time this season, but played every match of this game,” Dyer said. “I was really impressed with how calm, cool and collected MaKenzie was.”
Wrapping up the regular season at 11-9, the Medford had to contend with a change of scenery playing in postseason play over in the Division 1 Central/East bracket.
“I was a little lost when trying to figure out what bracket we were landing in,” Dyer said. “I honestly didn't know much about any of the teams in the bracket so I had to do my research. I felt very confident going into the match against Newton South because our stats were very similar.”
Meet the Mustangs
Leading the way for the Mustangs this season were senior captains Hardy, Katiah Scott, Adriana Bourdeau. An outside hitter, Scott was an offensive sparkplug and very vocal whenever she took the court.
“Katiah is one of the best volleyball players I have ever had the privilege of coaching,” Dyer said. “She is an all-around player and inspirational captain. She always knows the right thing to say to her team and can pump them all up. She was constantly pointing out the positive things her teammates were doing and the girls were very lucky to have her as captain.”
A four-year letterman and right outside hitter, Boudreau sported a unique versatility that made her a threat wherever spot she played.
“Adriana is every coaches dream,” Dyer said. “She's done everything I've ever asked from her. She's changed her position a few times for the sake of the team and never complained. She is as talented as she is nice. She is a true leader and the younger girls certainly looked up to her.”
From the day she first walked into the Cooper Gym her freshman year, Hardy appeared destined to become the coaches starting libero and team leader.
“I knew she would get us far (and) she did,” Dyer said. “She surpassed all the ideas I had for her and became an incredible volleyball player. She really stepped up this year as a leader on the court and I'm very proud of her.”
Another senior that loomed large was Victoria Paras. A natural athlete, Paras patrolled the court playing a number of positions over the past two seasons, doing anything she could to make the team better.
“I moved Vic around for the past two years to almost every position and she has excelled at everyone of them,” Dyer said. “In the stat tournament she set after playing outside all season. She was confident and knew everything she was suppose to do. We wouldn't have played as well as we did if it wasn't for her.”
Changing with the times
From the outset the team’s most pressing need appeared to be trying to fill the setter’s position. The cornerstone of any squad, the setter is looked at much like a quarterback in football, according to the coach.
Originally, Dyer toyed with the idea of moving Paras there, but she didn’t want to lose the senior’s power on the back row. Instead she opted to go with bluechip sophomore Grace Galvin. The experience she gained should bode well for the team over the next two seasons.
Medford had to deal with playing in a brand new league. The Northeastern Conference featured a number of challenging clubs including league leaders Danvers. Peabody and Beverly.
“Switching into a new league isn't easy and the girls walked into every gym this season with confidence,” Dyer said.” I've never been more proud to coach a team in my life. I'm excited to see where we go in this league as the years go on.”
The Mustangs entered the season with two goals: Beat North Reading and make the state tournament.
“I'm originally from North Reading so the girls wanted to beat them so bad for me,” said Dyer. “And when we reached that goal this season and beat them for the first time in four years I was so proud of them.”
Her senior class has been a special group that has been there from the very beginning.
“We walked into the gym on our first day together four years ago,” Dyer said. “They've moved right along with me and I've learned just as much about being a coach as they have about playing volleyball. They are an exceptional group of young ladies on and off of the court. I'll miss them very much next year but I know they're going to do great things in college.”
Although they’ll lose a plethora of seniors over the offseason, the coach feels her underclassmen have learned a lot moving forward.
“Our future looks bright,” she said. “We had a really great freshmen class come in this year, who are so eager to learn and they constantly cheering on the older girls, and working as hard as they can. Next year might be a bit of a rebuilding year, after all we're loosing six seniors, four of them being starters.”
But the key to the program’s ultimate success hinges at the youth level.
“It starts at the middle school age,” Dyer said. “We need to get these girls playing younger. All of the towns that have great teams have youth leagues. I'm in the works now with the middle schools to start an after school program that will hopefully grow enough to be a youth league.”
If they do that, the Mustangs should be in the thick of things for years to come.