SALEM — Seeking its first playoff victory in program history, the Salem High men’s volleyball team couldn’t have asked for a better start against visiting Ware on Thursday afternoon. .
Competing as the No. 27 seed in the Division 2 playoff draw after a 9-6 regular season campaign, the Witches jumped out and won the first two games in a rare matinee fight in front of a packed house at the Salem High Fieldhouse.
But Ware reacted in a big way, coming up with a number of impressive digs and forcing Salem out of his comfort zone. The result was three straight wins for the Western Mass school. as they rallied for a 3-2 win to send Salem home for the season.
“They didn’t let us get cheap points; we had to fight for every point,” Salem head coach Craig Massey said after the 25-18, 26-24, 22-25, 17-25, 10-15 decision.
“Nothing was falling when we were trying to tip over and they were spinning really really well defensively,” he added. “They played error-free volleyball in defense and did enough in attack to put games aside when they needed to.”
Despite the disappointing loss, Massey was happy with the season overall and believes the young program is moving in the right direction.
“We set ourselves the goal at the beginning of the year to qualify for the tournament. To be ranked where we were able to put on a game was beyond our expectations,” Massey acknowledged. “It would have been great to get the win, but the program is absolutely on the rise and I see great things for this team in the years to come.”
Rushing to their first lead, the Witches served well and chained great setups for their teammates at net for easy put-aways. The Witches took a 5-3 lead in the first set and increased that lead to 14-9 at the halfway point thanks to excellent serve from Elias Ferreira (2 aces, 94.1 serve percentage). Ware was never really threatened in the first set.
In set 2, Ware grabbed the first two points before Salem fought back quickly to eventually take a nine-point lead (21-12). Once again, Ferreira and Alexander MacTaylor (3 aces) put their team in a good position with an effective service game.
Ware notched seven straight points in the second set to make things interesting before Salem finally finished it with a manual spike at net.
Jake Fritz (team-high 8 kills) and Jayren Romero (5 kills) both scored clutch points for Salem.
“I thought we started strong and our hitters were working a lot more efficiently,” Massey said. “They were getting better swings. But as (Ware’s) defense adjusted, they picked up a lot of balls, and when we had the chance, we couldn’t put the big point aside.
Trouble for Salem began in the third set, as a back-and-forth stanza finally saw Ware come out on top, 25-22. The fourth set was all about Ware, who never trailed en route to a decisive 25-17 victory.
It set the stage for a win-win fifth set, and while Salem certainly had his chances, he could never get over the bump in the 15-point frame.
George Alexopoulos added seven kills in the Witches loss while Kaiden Brewster had four to go with a team-best five blocks. Ferreira led the way as a preparer, registering 22 assists, while Fritz had 14 digs and Nick DaCosta and Romero had 11.
It was undoubtedly a hard loss to swallow for a group that had made so much progress this spring. But Massey thinks it will only help them progress and hopes the sport itself does the same on the North Shore.
“We’ve seen growth for the women’s game over the past few years and now we’re starting to see the men’s programs start to take shape as well,” Massey said. “I think volleyball is on an upward trajectory; we saw more kids playing men’s volleyball this spring and had a JV team for the very first time. I really hope we start seeing more North Shore teams for this spring sport because it’s a great sport, it’s fun and the playoff vibe today was fantastic.
Contact Nick Giannino at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.