DANVERS – As if they had been here before.
Maybe not in this part of the North Shore, but here.
The place where no one gets shaken. Hence the killings don’t just come from the Big Ben linked to the Big Ten. Where talking about perfect seasons is muted.
Yes, they’ve been here before: last team standing; medals around the neck; unbeaten.
In a display of Needham’s depth, junior Ethan McCarron’s block at net became a championship point, leading the Rockets to a second straight Division I state title and second straight undefeated season.
The tougher-than-looked 25-17, 25-18, 25-21 win over a resilient Westford Academy side at St. John’s Prep High on Wednesday night was Needham’s 46th consecutive victory. And only Newton North has saved the Rockets from another season of perfection.
Not that these guys keep track.
“I don’t think about the record too much,” said junior Henry Dirks, who had four kills, each appearing to stop a Westford run.
“Honestly, I don’t really think about it,” said schoolmate Raymond Weng, who tallied 40 assists.
Certainly Nolan Leary, emotions on your sleeve, arms constantly in the air, you can sum it up.
“It’s nice to win one, it’s even nicer to win two,” said the senior captain. “There’s no better way out.”
Even coach Dave Powell took the time to step back and admire another perfect ending. Normally, his MO is dripping with coaching talk. One game at a time; be the best version of yourself.
But even he looked stunned.
“It’s crazy,” he said when asked his opinion on the Rockets’ reign. “If you went back to men’s volleyball in Massachusetts — I’m not one to talk about it before — I’m not sure there’s a two-year period where there’s that kind of dominance. It shows that the kids are hyper-competitive, hyper-focused, and really talented. I’m really lucky to coach a group like this.
Westford Academy, making their first appearance in a state championship game, led early in each set. While senior Matt Zegowitz propelled his team into contention, the Gray Ghosts barely let Needham walk away.
But after winning 21 games in a row after dropping out of the season opener, WA (21-2) couldn’t penetrate a wall of talent that no other team has broken since 2019.
“We never dreamed of going this far. It’s beyond my imagination,” Westford manager Brandon Eang said. “I am so proud of our players. It was quite an achievement. »
Ben Putnam, the Ohio State commit whose teammates call “Putt,” led all players with 21 eliminations, though it wasn’t his play alone that kept the Ghosts from appearing as giant killers.
Needham led 17-12 in the second set before WA rallied at 19-18, but a kill from McCarron, an ace from Owen Ching and a spike from Weng scored a winning run.
The third set was 13-13 before a Dirks kill put the Rockets back in front. Needham notched three straight points, but a kill from Jake Aylward brought the Ghosts within a point. A murder of McCarron halted WA’s momentum, however, and it was the junior outside hitter who then handed another title to Needham.
“We believed in our team, even when it was tight,” Leary said. “This whole third set was neck and neck; we knew we were the best team and we were going to come out on top.
“It wasn’t going to be the Ben Putnam Show,” Powell said. “He definitely had his, he was definitely the best player in the gym, but guys like Ethan McCarron, Nolan Leary, Henry Dirks – they really stepped up. It’s great to see.
Kevin Coppinger is one of five seniors along with Jason Gould, Derek Yang, Putnam and Leary, but he didn’t start playing volleyball until his second year. The middle tackle appeared to be in a state of disbelief amid post-game hugs and poses for photos with parents.
“It’s pretty surreal, going back to back,” he said. “It’s definitely a long road. It’s great to be back here with all the fans supporting you. This is very fun.”
Weng may not pay attention to undefeated seasons, but the junior passer enjoys playing for what might be one of the best teams of all time in the state. The smile on his face said it all.
“It really shaped me as a person,” he said. “This program is one of the best things that has happened to me in my life.”
Follow Tim Dumas on Twitter: @TimDumas.