Photo: Belmont High Volleyball Captains (from left) Leah Barbroudi, Jane Mahon and Mindee Lai along with Athletic Director Jim Davis and Head Coach Jen Couture with the runners up trophy.
At least the Belmont High School volleyball team could smile coming off the court at Wellesley High School early Saturday morning, Nov. 10.
In the team’s historic season – a record 18 wins and a place in the Central East Division 1 sectional finals – the players and coaches have met a number of very good teams. On Saturday, they met a program that has dominated the Central East for more than a decade. Number one seed Newton North, who just happened to be last year’s Division 1 state champions, had won six consecutive sectional titles and was looking for its seventh against the Marauders.
“We knew it would be a challenge,” said Head Coach Jen Couture. “They are simply a great team.”
After an impressive 3-1 set victory over second seed North Quincy in Wednesday’s semifinals, Couture believed her team had to transition its strengths on the defensive side of the ledger to scoring quickly against a Tiger team that brought back most of last year’s state title team.
And while Belmont had its moments, especially in the third set led by setter Mindee Lai and senior middle Jane Mahon, the power and skills built into the Tigers DNA was far too much for the Marauders to overcome as Belmont fell to Newton North, 3-0 (25-12, 25-11, 25-15), in a display of power and tactics.
The one person on Newton North who dominated the match was senior Ashley Wang, a strong and tall player who was not only adept at the net where she was deadly with her kill attempts but also quick on defense. Her service game was “on” in the first set when she went on an eight-point run to take the Tigers from a 7-4 lead to a 15-4 advantage. Wang’s skill to drive serves to vacant spots on the floor forced Belmont to place four players on the back line.
Joining Wang in pushing Belmont was senior Chelsea Simmons – who is a teammate with Wang and three other Tigers on a successful Newton-based AAU-type club – who was one of the morning’s most impressive blockers, while stepping in as setter and taking the ball down the line as an opposite hitter.
Belmont did demonstrate a strong defensive game but the offense was hampered by the Tigers dominate front three which threw up walls of blockers against Belmont.
The Tigers built an early second set lead at 7-2 and stretched it to 16-5, Belmont began putting up some effective blocking, including senior Gabby Viale stopping Wang one-on-one at the net. But Newton North was too strong on the offense, always looking for the quick kill.
After going down 11-4 in the third, Belmont started its best rally chipping away with some strong net play to reduce the lead to 16-13 after a big block by Mahon and 17-14 from a Viale floater that just dropped inside the line. But once again, Newton North had so many options to go on a seven point run to extend the lead to 24-15. The final point found Belmont tied up in the net and Newton North getting ready to take on undefeated Lawrence in the state semifinals.
“[Newton North] was a fun team to play. It was the best serving we’ve seen all year,” said Couture. “By the third set, we showed them why we are here. But ultimately, we were overpowered as they were hitting to great spots to beat us.”
Couture said reaching a sectional final should be a great motivator for future players in the program.
“No more should Belmont just settle with making the state tourament but to see us winning championships. I hope this game opens doors at some point where we no longer look at ourselves as underdogs,” she said.