Ashland High Volleyball Team Sets Sights On State Title

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

Jay Warren is a veteran volleyball coach who’s no stranger to building and directing teams to successful seasons.
The 49-year-old Warren also knows his way around the Tri Valley League. He led the Millis girls to a State championship in 2003 during his four-year stint with the Mohawks. He later coached Westwood for a season before arriving in Ashland where he’s guided the Clockers to four consecutive tournament appearances in six years.
When he took Ashland’s coaching reins in 2013, he faced a rebuilding job that seemed like a Herculean task — he inherited a Clockers’ team that had a 1-17 record. What followed were campaigns that included seven wins then nine triumphs. Although tourney berths didn’t materialize, Ashland volleyball had turned the corner.
“We’ve qualified for the tourney four straight years but we’ve been eliminated three times in the second round,’’ Warren noted. “Last year, we bowed out in the first round.’’
The Foxboro native, who’s guided the current edition of the Clockers to a 14-1 record at Local Town Pages deadline, is optimistic that the 2019 squad will have some staying power in the upcoming playoffs.
“In previous seasons, our primary goal was to get to the tourney and advance as far as possible,’’ Warren said. “Well, we’ve changed our thinking. This year, our goal is clear. We want to get to the State final and win a State championship.’’
Warren firmly believes that lofty objective is realistic. “It can be achieved if we keep improving and learning,’’ he emphasized. We’ll also need support from the school and the community. A State title will only occur if all the girls feel they’re part of the program.’’
So far, the Clockers’ program is clicking on all cylinders and Warren likes the strengths his 14 players possess. “We’ve got girls with a high volleyball IQ and they’re athletic, talented and coachable,’’ he said. “Other assets include solid team chemistry, technical skills, experience, depth, size and court awareness.’’
A capable leadership corps is always a plus and Warren is a fan of his four captains — seniors Julia Dangel, Elizabeth Labbe and Yasmin Miranda and junior Kendal Zee. Dangel is a setter; Labbe is a defensive specialist; and Miranda and Zee are hitters.
“Julia is our quarterback, a field general who’s fearless, has good court vision and who’s coachable,’’ Warren emphasized. “A capable passer, she’s improved in all aspects. Elizabeth has a high volleyball IQ. She’s technically sound, a good passer and a fine server. Very astute, she could coach the sport now. Yasmin is in her first varsity season. She’s outgoing and hard-working. She strives to ensure that her teammates are focused and also having fun and she isn’t afraid to get to every ball. Kendal is athletic, gets lots of kills and is a decent blocker. She makes sure all the girls are part of the program.’’
Sophomore libero Sneha Yadav is a key contributor who gets high marks from the coach. “Sneha has a high energy level and moves well,’’ Warren noted. “An excellent passer and server, her court awareness is top-notch and she plays fearlessly.’’
A quintet of junior hitters — Claire and Lauren Marci, Sarah Freedman, Maddie Klepper and Lauren Politica — has not only improved, but also has been consistent.
“Claire is a 6-foot-1 middle hitter who has a strong arm swing,’’ Warren said. “She can block shots and also keep the ball alive. A solid hitter, she saves a lot of plays. Marci is vastly improved as an outside hitter. She’s got a free swing, drives the ball hard and is a good blocker. Sarah played on the jayvees last year. A middle hitter, she’s adjusted well. Very coachable, her blocking has really improved. Maddie get kills on the right side. Another player who’s improved, her swing is smooth and free. Lauren has really stepped up, earning playing time because of her hitting, passing and work ethic. She had 15 kills in our win over Medfield.’’
Two freshmen with lots of promise are Cece Labbe, a defensive specialist who can also play setter, and Taylor Simpson, a 5-foot-7 right-side hitter.
“Cece is versatile,’’ Warren noted. “She’s skilled, athletic and has very good court vision. Taylor is also athletic and she’s improving daily. She’s fearless and her approach to the game is excellent.’’
Two other junior hitters — Fiona Vasile and Lilly Shiller — are skilled players who’ve contributed when called on. They’ve worked hard and have improved in practice.
Statistical leaders through 15 matches are: Claire Marci (111 kills and 19 blocks); Dangel (57 aces and 344 assists); and Yadav (155 digs).
Warren, who works as service and parts director at Lexus of Northboro, has experienced success coaching volleyball because his competitive philosophy is basic. “If the kids are reaching their potential and enjoying their athletic experience, then winning will be the by-product,’’ he stressed.
Another key to Warren’s success are the attributes he values and looks for when he’s assembling a roster. “I want players who are eager to learn,’’ he said. “And, it’s important to get players whose attitudes are positive towards other teammates and who promote team chemistry. Other traits I look for are athleticism, technical skills, a good volleyball IQ and mental toughness.’’
Always quick to deflect praise, Warren credits Ray Labbe, his jayvee coach, for the Clockers’ progress. “Ray knows the sport,’’ Warren said. “We complement one another because we think alike. He’s done a great job developing talent for the varsity.’’
A positive sign that volleyball is gaining popularity in Ashland can be seen at the middle school level — there are 44 girls competing in that program. It’s a tremendous feeder system for the varsity, which currently is in a battle for the TVL Large Division title with Hopkinton. “They’re the defending league champs,’’ Warren said. “And, they’re skilled, have tradition, are well-coached and have girls who play year-round.’’
The Clockers, however, have their share of assets, and by setting their sights high for post-season play, chances are good that Ashland’s playoff run this year could be quite lengthy.