TAUNTON, Mass. – Most of the boys’ volleyball teams in the playoffs boast a strong outside hitter-middle combo, but not many have the complementary and depth pieces that the top-seeded Taunton Tigers possess.
While seniors Lance Law and Lens Esquil spearhead the Tigers attack, classmates Collin Hunter, Malik Charles, and junior Alex Tavares complete a relentless attacking corps, one that helped the hosts pick up a 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-15) sweep over ninth-seeded Brookline inside the Rabouin Field House at Taunton High School.
The result marked the program’s first-ever playoff win at home.
“I think that’s what separates us is that we’re able to bring in that second layer of offense,” said Taunton head coach Toby Chaperon. “A lot of teams are expecting a lull or hoping for a mismatch, and they may or may not get it from us because we have the athleticism throughout the lineup. Being able to bring in that second wave of hitters and a middle, that helps us.”
Law (nine kills) gives the Tigers flexibility with the ability to hit as an outside hitter or an opposite and Esquil (10 kills) provides power up the middle. But when the Tigers rotate, there isn’t a soft spot in the lineup. Hunter (eight kills) is dangerous as an outside hitter, Charles (five kills) can hit in the middle or outside, and Tavares is a presence at the net at 6’4.
“I think that has brought us to where we are right now,” Chaperon said. “That’s really the difference maker. We know going into any match there are going to be some good hitters, a good middle…but if our other guys are on, I don’t know if there is a better complementary trio in the state. There’s still a long way to go but I feel highly about my guys. If they are playing the way I know they can play, we can do alright.”
“They are really able to spread that offense and they have a lot of athletic guys, guys that look like multi-sport athletes,” said Brookline coach Bryson Rainey. “That’s what you need coming into this game. I thought [Taunton] was a lot of fun to watch. I’m really happy for my guys though, this is a good learning experience.”
In the opening set, neither Taunton or Brookline could create separation early on. Esquil landed two kills before hitting an ace to give the Tigers its largest lead at 19-16. Law came up with a big block on Brookline’s top middle Eric Chabon to give the Tigers a 22-17 lead. Hunter added a late kill before an error gave the Tigers a 25-19 win.
“We knew [Brookline] would be ready to come and play,” Chaperon said. “They play in the toughest conference in the state so you can’t judge them by their record. They have a great outside hitter, their middle is as tough of a middle as you’ll play against in the state. We knew we had our hands full but I thought our athleticism kind of took us to the top.”
The second set mirrored the first set with no team leading by more than two points until late. Esquil had his best set in the second, planting a kill after a nice back set from Ricardo DaFonseca (32 assists) to give Taunton a 17-16 lead. Brookline came back to tie it at 18-18 but the hosts closed with a 7-0 run with Esquil (two blocks, two aces) landing an ace for the final point and a 2-0 lead.
“Lens has just really emerged as one of the top middles in my opinion that nobody probably knows about still,” Chaperon said. “His athleticism is just through the roof. He can get up and get almost any ball, he can block and do a lot of good things. He’s coming around and really learning how to play volleyball. He’s always had the athleticism but now he’s picking up some volleyball IQ. He’s seeing different things out there.”
The Tigers’ relentless attack paid dividends in the third set as they were able to build the separation easier on. Hunter dropped in a tip kill, hit another one that just fell in after Esquil made a nice play to keep the ball up after a block, and Hunter put an exclamation point on a 13-3 run with a kill that split a pair of blocks.
Brookline got the deficit down to seven but back-to-back kills from Charles put an end to any comeback hopes and Taunton sealed the victory with a 25-15 win in the third set. Gage Kingman finished with 10 digs for the Tigers.
“I think the defense is what carried us tonight,” Chaperon said. “Our serving wasn’t the greatest but we were able to pass better than we had been going into the tournament. I thought the passing needed to get better and we emphasized it in practice and it paid off tonight.”
Taunton boys volleyball (19-0) will take on the winner of #4 Greater New Bedford (16-4) and #5 Newton South (15-4) in the South semifinals on a date still to be determined.