CANTON, Mass. – Prior to Thursday night’s game, senior setter Nicole Poole took the microphone and addressed the large crowd of students, family members, and friends sitting in the Canton High gym. She spoke about her best friend Alaina Goodwin, a fellow senior who was stricken with a rare spinal cord stroke that has left her immobile from the waist down and who was the inspiration for Ace It For Alaina.
Poole and the other Canton captains presented flowers to Alaina’s parents and to her twin sister Darria before posing for a photo. When the pregame ceremony was done, the Bulldogs took the emotion of the evening and channeled it into a dominating sweep of visiting Oliver Ames, winning 25-15, 25-16, 25-11.
It was fitting that on match point, Poole toed the service line and fired her sixth ace of the night to seal a victory in honor of her good friend. She added 17 assists, 10 digs and five kills in a stellar all-around performance.
“Alaina is really important to me, especially, and all the girls on this team,” said Poole after the game. “She’s an amazing girl. I can’t describe in words how important she is to all of us. I think it definitely motivated us a lot.”
Canton coach Pat Cawley added, “Nicole plays like that everyday. She’s solid. We’ve had great setters, athletic setters, but she’s pure hands and she has the best attitude, she never complains, she runs down every ball and she did it again tonight. She is the calm in every storm.”
It definitely felt like a storm at the start of the game, as a raucous student section echoed through the gym to spur on the Bulldogs. OA jumped out to a 3-0 lead to start the game, but Canton would start to take control behind senior middle hitter Casey Shea, who had five of her seven kills in the opening set. OA’sKatie Flynn kept it close with three kills and Kayla Raymond added two of her nine kills in the first but Poole closed out the set with a quick kill of her own.
“We’re kind of a different look this year,” said Cawley. “We’re trying to cut down on our unforced errors. We have some solid hitters, but we don’t have any ‘wow’ hitters this year. We have a great setter and great defense.”
The game stayed close in the second set, until Poole stepped to the service line with the Bulldogs leading 11-10 after a kill by OA’s Emma Petrillo. Canton would win the next six points, three of them on Poole aces and one on a kill by Emma Murphy. Despite three kills from Raymond down the stretch of the set, Canton pulled into a 2-0 lead in the match.
“Our serve-receive has been on for two weeks and they chose tonight to not have it on,” said OA coach Chelsea Correia with a chuckle. “I’ve switched my liberos so my sophomore is getting a lot of playing time, but it shouldn’t be a problem if I switch one player in. We’re working on connection and chemistry.”
The crowd got even louder in the third set and the Bulldogs continued to feed off the energy in the gym. Although OA would get 20 assists from senior setter Bridget McCarthy, the Tigers struggled to get a rhythm going. Outside hitter Erika Lum had a couple of kills for Canton and libero Julia Panico and Emily Lynch kept the plays alive defensively. Sophomore Theresa O’Brien added two kills in the final few points.
Poole stepped up to win the match with a grin that stretched from ear to ear and sent in another solid serve that the Tigers could not return. “It was an overwhelming feeling when the final shot went in,” she explained.
“You really felt like you made a difference and we learned that this is a community that relies so much on each other and you feel like when you do it for someone it means so much more.”
The players put back on the purple t-shirts made for the occasion and, after making a video to send to Alaina, gathered around the Goodwin family for a moment with Alaina’s parents.
“Volleyball is important, we work hard, we want to win the Hock, we want to win a state championship, but when you have a kid that is paralyzed it put everything in perspective,” said Cawley, who praised her team for being able to refocus on the game in the midst of everything.
“They gave everything they could to make this the best night they could for Alaina.”
After the game was over, Alaina’s sister Darria took a moment to speak about what the night an the response from the Canton community meant to her. “At first I was nervous because I don’t like the attention and it’s been hard to talk about,” she admitted, “but I’m happy all of this was put together and all the support, all the people rallying behind her makes it easier.”
Darria continued, “Everyone has been so supportive. I have a lot of great teachers and classmates. Everyone is really understanding.”
A fundraising page has been established for the Goodwin family to help while Alaina remains at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, where Darria said there have been noticeable improvements. To support the Goodwin family, visit https://www.gofundme.com/2m29n9y4.
Canton (10-1) will play again on Friday in its first non-league game of the season against defending Div. 2 state champion Notre Dame Academy (Hingham). Oliver Ames (7-7, 6-5) will have three home games next week beginning with Franklin on Monday.