Canton Sweeps Milford To Return To D2 Central Final

Canton volleyball
Canton’s Casey Shea (31) attacks the ball in the first set against Milford. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
 
CANTON, Mass. – During the second set of the D2 Central Semifinal between Hockomock rivals Canton and Milford, Bulldogs head coach Pat Cawley had to call a timeout with her side trailing.

The Bulldogs had been in this situation before. In fact, it was just a couple weeks ago when Canton hosted the Scarlet Hawks for their second regular season meeting. In that much, just like Wednesday’s showdown, Canton won the opening set in relatively convincing fashion.

During the October 20th showdown, the Scarlet Hawks rallied to win the second set.

On Wednesday night, after Cawley’s timeout, Canton erased a six point deficit with a 14-2 run and went on to win the second set, and then the third in impressive fashion to score a 3-0 win. With the win, Canton advances to the D2 Central Final for the second straight season.

“We came out strong in that first set, we were really on fire, working together and I think we threw [Milford] off their game a little bit,” Cawley said. “I reminded the girls about a couple weeks ago. Volleyball is like that – teams come out flat and can pick it up. Volleyball is never over until the end. I reminded them but we were still flat to start the second. I called the timeout to calm them down – it’s such a mental game. I told them to work one point at a time and to their credit, that’s what they did and then we went ahead.”

While Milford held a 12-6 lead, one of Casey Shea’s team-high nine kills sparked Canton’s run. An ace from Erika Lum tied the set at 12-12 and an ace from Julia Panico gave Canton its first lead of the set since the opening point at 14-13. Canton stretched its second set lead to 20-13 before Milford chipped away. The Scarlet Hawks won three straight points with the set on the line but a service error gave Canton a 25-20 win.

Canton started the match with a pair of kills, setting the tone for the rest of the way while also getting Canton’s crowd – “the best crowd we ever had in Cawley’s 16 years – into the match early on.

An ace from Maria Mackie forced Linda Zacchilli to call timeout with her squad down 10-4. Canton stretched the lead to double digits behind a pair of Milford errors but the Scarlet Hawks made a run at the end of the set to make it close. An ace from Ally Zagami brought Milford back within five (19-14) but Canton closed with a 6-2 run, punctuated by a block kill from Shea and outside hitter Hannah Jerrier.

Shea and fellow middle Emma Murphy (eight kills, three blocks, no errors) were the key pieces in Canton’s offense. Setter Nicole Poole (17 assists, 13 digs, two kills) spread the offense around nicely but the Scarlet Hawks struggled to stop Shea and Murphy in the middle.

“Our game plan this year is middles – they are our stronger players. Our outsides have come on stronger during the second half of the season too,” Cawley said. “There’s only one attacking player on this team that played significant last year at all, Emma Murphy in the middle. Casey Shea played on the weak side last year so we moved her to the middle.

“Everybody else is new so it’s been a learning process. In 20 matches, I’ve probably had 15 different lineups. It’s the epitome of team, we don’t really have any star players besides Nicole – she’s been our backbone, she’s awesome – everybody else contributes in whatever way they can.”

With the momentum of its side after winning the first two sets, Canton raced out to a quick 6-0 lead in the third set. A kill from Murphy and a kill from Shea sandwiched around a handful of Milford errors put the Bulldogs up 16-4.

At one point during the set, Canton had three straight attacks blocked, but each time had a player there to cover. It was that one play that showed how well Canton handled the match defensively.

“You’re going to win volleyball games by doing the small things, whether it’s covering the attack, picking up tips, chasing down balls – those are the things that win games,” Cawley said. “You can pound as much as you want but that can’t win a match on its own — it’s all the small things.”

Canton finished the final set with a 25-9 win, the majority of the Bulldogs’ early points come off errors from the Scarlet Hawks.

“It wasn’t our day, we really didn’t bring our ‘A’ game,” Zacchilli said. “And we have been playing very, very well lately – even in practice. We’ve been really sharp, the kids have been focused. I had said to my coaches I was surprised we hadn’t seen the deer in the headlights look in the first two playoff games because none of the kids have tournament experience. I saw that look tonight. There were some nerves out there and when you get to this point, everyone is good. They’re going to score their points, they’re going to get the ball to the floor but when we have our opportunity, we can’t hit it into the net, we can’t make unforced errors.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Canton, they played very well. But we made a lot of unforced errors on easy balls and hit a lot of balls into the net on good sets, which we haven’t been doing.”

In her first year back at the helm, Zacchilli was pleased with the first year – taking a team that missed the postseason a year ago to the D2 Central Semifinals.

“I’m very pleased with the season as a whole,” Zacchilli said. “The kids were great, the senior leadership has been amazing. I’m really glad I kept all of the seniors. Even the seniors that are more practice players, they helped to make this team. We had 10 kids in the rotation too and I normally don’t have that many but we had a lot of kids that deserved to be out on the floor. I don’t think there’s one player on the team that hasn’t made progress from day one until now and that’s what it’s all about.”

Zagami led Milford with six kills and six aces, Allie Collins had eight assists and Kelley Reichert had five kills and 18 digs.

Canton volleyball will take on top-seeded Hopkinton (19-2) on Saturday, at 4:00 at Wellesley High School in the D2 Central Final.

Hawks Heading to Tournament After Sweep of Hopedale

Milford Volleyball
Kelley Reichert (33) and Milford girls’ volleyball dominated on Dig Pink Night, beating Hopedale 3-0 to clinch a spot in the postseason in front of a packed gym. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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MILFORD, Mass. – Ordinarily, the bleachers behind the benches remain closed during volleyball matches, but as the beginning of the varsity match approached Milford athletic director Peter Boucher was forced to pull out an extra section to accommodate the overflow of fans, the majority of whom were decked out in pink.

It was a special occasion for a special cause and the crowd piled into the gym at Milford High on Wednesday night to celebrate the volleyball team as it took on unbeaten Hopedale and to honor Dig Pink Night, which raised money for the Side Out Foundation’s mission of finding a cure for breast cancer and supporting breast cancer patients.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

With a raucous atmosphere spurring them on and inspired by teammate Carli Gonzalez and head coach Linda Zacchilli, who both beat cancer in the past year (Zacchilli for the second time), the Hawks played arguably their best match of the season to sweep Hopedale in three sets (25-14, 25-12, 25-12) and clinch a return to the state tournament.

“We made very few unforced errors today,” said Zacchilli. “We played very sharp. We forced a lot of errors on their part. We were really focused.”

The Milford front line set the tone in the opening set. The Hawks dominated at the net, led by junior Kelley Reichert who recorded four of her team-high seven kills and two of her four blocks in the first. She also added a pair of aces and five digs in the match. Her back-to-back kills set up set point before a Hopedale error wrapped up the first.

In the second set, the Hawks fell behind very early but behind strong serving from Gillian Valanzola (two aces) and Lauren Zouranjian (team-high three aces and eight assists) Milford took control and pulled away. Valanzola added five kills and was a strong presence in the middle alongside Juliana Tracy, who finished with a team-high six blocks.

“My middles have come so far from the beginning of the season,” said Zacchilli. “We’ve done a lot of things in practice to make it muscle memory, come off the net so you can get something behind your hit. Blocking-wise too they’re doing a better job reading the hitters.”

The third set was another dominating performance by Milford. The Hawks never took the foot off the gas and used a strong defensive effort to put pressure on Hopedale, forcing the visitors into a number of errors. Libero Kyra Alves spearheaded the defense with 14 digs to lead the Hawks.

Much more than just a game

Last season’s Dig Pink event was particularly emotional because the girls took a moment to honor Zacchilli, who was then the boys’ volleyball coach and was battling cancer for a second time. Also, just days before the match, Gonzalez, then a freshman volleyball player, was diagnosed with cancer as well.

“I think it’s important for any team to run an event like this for a charitable reason,” said Zacchilli, “to have a purpose and give back a little bit. It’s important for them to understand there’s a bigger world out there beyond what’s right in front of them.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Unlike last year, Zacchilli did not want the event to be about her battle. The team did honor the coach before the game privately with flowers in the locker room.

“They want to make a big deal out of me, you know, but I said I don’t want that at all this time around,” she explained. “I’m a year out and I just want to be…out. I don’t want to think about it; I just want to leave it behind me.”

As she did last year (and recently did at Fenway Park during the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Find Telethon), Gonzalez sang the national anthem in front of a packed house. Gonzalez has a new perspective on Dig Pink Night after her battle with cancer.

“It’s so good to see everybody,” said Gonzalez after the match. “Everyone know someone with cancer, especially breast cancer, it’s so common.

“My grandmother had cancer but it was when I was little. I knew what cancer was but I didn’t know the severity of it and so after this year it means so much more to me…because I’ve seen it.”

Gonzalez and Zacchilli stayed in touch over the summer with the coach making sure that her player would be part of the event and the team, whether on the court or at the scorer’s table. Zacchilli also contacted Hopedale coach Andrew Mainini to be part of Dig Pink.

Mainini played volleyball at Milford for Zacchilli, was her assistant coach for several years and last spring took over the boys’ volleyball program with Zacchilli as his assistant. He jumped at the chance to be part of the event.

He said, “I was honored when she called and said, ‘Hey Andy, do you want to be our Dig Pink match?’ It was meaningful for me, my girls and obviously we wanted to do everything we could to contribute to the cause.

“There is always a ton of positive energy that comes out of events like these.”

On Dig Pink Night, the game is always secondary to the cause, but this display gives Zacchilli confidence that the Hawks have the potential to make some noise in the playoffs.

“I’m really proud of the way they played tonight,” she said. “If we play the way we played tonight, then we can play with anybody.”

Milford (9-3) will put that to the test on Thursday, as the Hawks have a quick turn around to host Kelley-Rex division co-leader Mansfield.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Scarlet Hawks Finish Off Franklin In Fourth Set

Milford volleyball
Milford’s Brianna Croteau and Juliana Tracy go up for a block against Franklin’s Erin Skidmore. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)

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MILFORD, Mass. – Even though it’s just the second week of the season, Milford found themselves in a familiar position. But this time, they proved they had learned their lesson.

The Scarlet Hawks won the first two sets of the match for the third straight game, but unlike their loss to King Philip last week, Milford was able to finish off Franklin to get a 3-1 win.

Milford took a thrilling first set, 29-27, and followed with an impressive 25-15 win in the second set. Franklin rallied to win the third set, 25-21, giving the visitors a bit of momentum.

“We started off a little slow but then we got on track,” Milford head coach Linda Zacchilli said. “I thought we played pretty decent games one and two but momentum can shift. We just didn’t play in that third game and the momentum was with them. Once you let a team take the third game, they believe they can win and it’s harder to win it yourself. I tried to reinforce that.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Last week, KP won the third set in similar fashion (25-17) and used that momentum to go on and win the fourth and final set to get the win.

Zacchilli and Milford weren’t going to let that happen again, the lesson had been learned.

“But to be able to put it all together in game four was good,” Zacchilli said. “We’re a work in progress till, we have a long way to go. but as long as keep making improvements, we’ll be OK. Once we settled into this game, we started passing the ball and we looked good.”

Franklin battled back from a 24-20 deficit in the first set to force a seesaw affair but Lauren Zouranjian’s ace finally gave the Scarlet Hawks the win 29-27.

It was all Milford in the second set, racing out to a 8-2 lead following an ace from Jane Schuler, and kills from Stefani Chiarelli and Kelley Reichert. The Scarlet Hawks built a double-digit lead at 20-10 off an ace from Ally Zagami and went up 24-10 when Zagami registered two more aces. Franklin rallied for five straight points but Milford took the set 25-15.

The Panthers raced out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth game, a cushion that they kept the rest of the way. Franklin went up 24-16 before Milford rallied for five straight points to try and get back in it, but sophomore Maggie Doyle earned the set point with a kill for the Panthers.

Milford took care of business in the fourth set, slowly building a four point lead (9-5). The Scarlet Hawks really put things out of reach for Franklin with a 17-5 run, highlighted by kills from Kate Lobisser, Chiarelli and the final one from Reichert to get the win, 25-13.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

“The big step was not letting that third game carry into the fourth,” Zacchilli said. “We were dominant but then we had difficulty passing the ball. But the kids rallied. After we dominated in game two, they dominated in game three. We needed to put on the brakes and stop their momentum, we need to be the ones to step up and the kids rose to the occasion. That’s something we didn’t do a week ago so I look at it as a successful thing.”

Reichert finished with a team-high 11 kills while Chiarelli had nine kills and Zagami had seven. Zagami (four aces) also led the Scarlet Hawks with 17 digs while Kyra Alves had 14 digs, and Allie Collins (18 assists) had 13 digs.

“We had some players really step up too,” Zacchilli said. “I thought Chiarelli probably had her best game, both Zagami and Reichert, they were very steady for us on the outside and in backcourt defense. They really did a nice job passing and serving, they both served tough.

“I think overall, in the end, it was a real team effort. We didn’t force the ball anywhere, all of the kinds swung, they all had some success.”

Erin Skidmore had six kills and a pair of aces for the Panthers, Maggie Doyle added six kills and Meghan Maguire had three kills and four blocks.

“We missed an awful lot of serves. I think we missed six or seven [in the first game] and you can’t do that,” Franklin head coach Kate Horsmann said. “We’re really young and I think the second game, if we had won the first set, it might have carried us through that second set. I think it’s disappointing for us but I don’t think it’s unexpected, that’s kind of what you see from young players. This was our first away match and we have five sophomores who are playing a lot. I thought when we played well we played really well. Milford was a good team today, they beat us. I’m not going to make any excuses, they were good.”

Milford volleyball (2-1, 1-1) travels to Taunton on Wednesday evening while Franklin (1-1, 1-1) will try to bounce back the same day when they host Foxboro.

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.

Milford 'Digs Pink' to Honor Coach and Teammate

Linda Zacchilli
Milford volleyball held the first annual “Linda Zacchilli Dig Pink Night” on Thursday and the inspired Hawks beat Millis 3-0. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports,com)

By Josh Perry, Managing Editor

MILFORD, Mass. – On Thursday night, the Milford volleyball team beat Millis 3-0 (25-12, 25-12, 25-18) and improved to 5-9 on the season.

But the story of Thursday night had nothing to do with wins and losses, league standings, tournament qualification, sets, kills, digs or anything else that happened on the court.

The story of Thursday night happened before a ball was served. The real story of Milford’s first annual “Linda Zacchilli Dig Pink Night” was about what head coach Jay Guinan called, “the special moments.”

Moments such as longtime Milford boys’ volleyball coach Linda Zacchilli getting a bouquet of flowers from freshman coach Amanda Mort, who played for Zacchilli when the coach had her first bout with cancer and was forced to miss the Hawks appearance in districts. The players filmed the game and brought it to Zacchilli’s home to watch. Zacchilli, who is beating cancer for a second time, stood in the packed bleachers and gave a quick thumbs up to the Hawks on the court as a sign of her appreciation for the night.

Moments such as Guinan choking up as he tells the crowd about the conversation he had with Milford freshman volleyball player Carlie Gonzalez just a few days before when she informed him that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She told her coach not to worry because she’s going to beat it. There were few dry eyes in the gym when Gonzalez then stepped to the microphone and gave a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

Moments such as Millis coach Lisa Farese failing to hold back tears as she prepared to coach against her alma mater. Farese played for the Hawks, coached freshman boys’ volleyball under Zacchilli (and even coached Zacchilli’s son), her niece is on the Milford JV team, her brother played for Zacchilli and she has been a friend and neighbor to the Gonzalez family for years. She watched Gonzalez warming up before the varsity teams took the court and admitted to her team that the night could be pretty emotional.

More than anything, the story of Thursday night was that everyone who packed into the stands was connected by the fight against cancer. Everyone there shared the pain of lost friends and relatives and everyone shared the inspiration of Zacchilli’s strength and Gonzalez’s courage.

“I haven’t coached any of these girls,” said Zacchilli in an interview during the match, “so the fact that they brought it to the attention of Peter [Boucher] and the coach…I’m very, very honored that they wanted to share the night with me.”

Guinan also coaches boys’ volleyball at Millis and has competed against Zacchilli for years. When he heard that Milford was looking for a girls’ coach last spring, he approached her before a match and suggested that she should take over. Zacchilli explained that she was once again fighting cancer and that her chemotherapy treatments would interfere.

“I was just like wow,” Guinan recalled. “It’s not about winning or losing.”

Zacchilli is currently in remission and the hope is that she will be back on the sideline in the spring to coach the Hawks once again. She was willing to give five minutes for an interview, but once she started speaking about the Hawks the time limit flew past. No one in the gym doubts that she will be able to win this battle as she has won so many on the court.

“I fought against her for so long as a coach that I can’t imagine that anything can take her out,” said Farese with a shake of her head. Farese then marveled that in the background Zacchilli had come out of the stands to help remove the net and clean up the court.

“As soon as we got the message that hey by the way you’re playing Milford and oh by the way do you mind it being the “Dig Pink”? I was like no that’s the coolest thing ever.”

Zacchilli had not coached any of the current Milford players, although she has continued to be around the program and watched plenty of games this season. She insisted that the Hawks are better than their record shows and even in the middle of being interviewed could not tear her eyes or thoughts away from the court.

She said, “I’m glad to see that they’re turning it on tonight for sure,” and then as another Milford serve landed for an ace, she exclaimed, “Unbelievable! I’m loving this!”

Carlie Gonzalez
Carlie Gonzalez gets a high-five.

The night began as a chance to honor Zacchilli, who athletic director Peter Boucher called a legend and “the matriarch of volleyball” at Milford, but the story changed this week when Gonzalez made her announcement.

“I approached the mom and they just said, we’re ready to fight,” said Boucher, who revealed before the match that he also battled cancer when he was young.

“She’s just a brave kid. We wanted to highlight the battle and the awareness and try to raise finances because I think it really matters.”

When Gonzalez got her test results and knew that it was cancer, she went to Guinan to tell him about it. As he described that moment to the crowd, he had to stop and choke back tears. He explained that Gonzalez had looked at him and told him that she was going to beat it.

“I like all these kids and treat them like my own…it’s hard,” he said after the match. “What’s hard is they kind of look at it like, no big deal.”

He added that Gonzalez left chemo early on Wednesday to be at the match against Algonquin and cheer on her teammates. Guinan said, “That’s the kind of chemistry that you want to build in a program.”

On the court, the Hawks were on fire from the first serve of the match. Kara Halpin went on a long service streak, Jill Powers, Kayla Antonellis, and Kelley Reichert dominated at the net, and seemingly every player on the Milford roster played a part in the win.

“They played a solid game against an opponent that was working really hard,” said Guinan, “but they were happy and that’s been our problem. I think we’re back on track with that.”

The win was secondary for Guinan and the Hawks. It was the opportunity to play in front of a packed house for a great cause and support two people very important to the program that really mattered.

“It’s about remembering the special moment,” he explained. “They’ll remember this as a special night. I’m glad that everybody pulled through for that.”

Donations to the American Cancer Society can be mailed or dropped off to Peter Boucher in the Milford High Athletics Department. To support Carlie Gonzalez and her family, visit https://www.gofundme.com/3f5zqn58.

Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.