DANVERS – Ben Putnam accelerated.
The Rockets’ senior outside hitter recorded 21 kills as top-seeded Needham men’s volleyball team defended their title, stopping 2nd Westford Academy, 3-0, for the Div. 1 Championship Wednesday at St. John’s Prep.
Needham eliminated the Gray Ghosts in straight sets 25-17, 25-18, 25-25, to clinch the title.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Putnam, whose team posted two unbeaten seasons with 46 straight wins, while winning 138 of 139 sets. “It’s a super cool experience to have your last game in the state championship. I’m just super happy that I was able to help move this situation forward, get this team started with all these people, and bring a state title back to Needham.
Putnam set the tone early and often. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound senior delivered a series of thundering spikes in the first set that went largely unanswered. And when he teamed up with junior outside hitter Ethan McCarron (13 kills) at shotgun, the Twin Towers formed an effective 1-2 punch.
Known for facing adversity head-on, Westford did his best to fight back. The Ghosts showed a few spurts of efficiency throughout the contest. Senior tri-captain Matthew Zegowitz, still hobbled after suffering a sprained ankle two days prior, showed his skills by scoring a handful of early set number one wins. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound senior’s best shot came off a skyhook volley that fell into an unguarded backcourt.
Aarush Singh’s frame helped bring the team to life. Senior tri-captain Jake Aylward and Tejas Kudva also had their moments with big kills, but just couldn’t find an offensive rhythm collectively.
Trailing 2-0, Westford senior Jacob Holahan tried to rally the troops with six kills and two blocks, but the team appeared to be caught in Needham’s afterburns at the time.
“Our backline just wasn’t there tonight,” said Westford Academy coach Brendon Eang. “We struggled to move our feet and get the passes. Some of our passes were not clean. We were much cleaner playing Lowell, and I think the servers were very good. That was the difference. We did not do it; have a problem with firepower, we can attack the ball. But our overtaking wasn’t there, that’s what disconcerted us.
Meanwhile, Needham backed Westford up trying to return Putnam’s countless spikes.
“It’s a great team,” Eang said. “It’s a great team. They are all very athletic, so congratulations. We tried and they got us, no apologies. It was a better team. »
Although disappointed with the result, the Westford manager cannot say enough about what the Ghosts have achieved this season. The second seed topped the table the first three rounds as they knocked out quality clubs Central Catholic (3-0, June 5), New Bedford (3-0, June 8) and Natick (3-0, June 10) ) before outscoring a resilient Lowell team 3-2 in Div. 1 semi-final on Monday.
“We never dreamed of going this far,” Eang said. “We started the season with our goals set. Too only losing two matches throughout the season, entering the tournament and seeing where it takes us. It’s beyond my imagination. I am so proud of my players. We stayed focused throughout the year and it got us far. It was an accomplishment. This has never been done before at Westford Academy, so this is all gravy.