Natick Volleyball Team Wins Sectional, Bows To Westfield In States

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Natick coach Peter Suxho and his volleyball team celebrate their Sectional championship.
Issue Date: 
July, 2019
Article Body: 

Natick High’s volleyball team added confidence to its list of assets after coasting through the Division 1 Central Sectional playoffs. Then came a dramatic triumph against Winchester in the State semifinal where the Redhawks rallied after losing the first two sets. Next up was the State final where coach Peter Suxho’s forces squared off against Westfield.
Natick’s hopes for a positive end to a storybook season, however, ended at Worcester State University where the Bombers blanked the Redhawks, 3-0, capturing their third straight State crown.
Suxho, who once coached the Albanian National Team, credited Westfield but also took time to laud his squad for its achievements.
“Westfield deserves to be State champs,’’ Suxho said. “They were more powerful than us and their blocking and serving were very effective. But, we’re not disappointed because we accomplished a lot. It’s hard to get to a State final and there are plenty of teams that would like to be in our position. This year’s squad isn’t my best but it’s my most memorable. We had only one returning player this season and yet we still were (Sectional) champions.’’
Natick, which finished its season with a 17-5 overall record, lost by scores of 25-21, 25-21 and 25-13. The Redhawks led midway through the first and second sets but Westfield got a pair of blocks that changed the momentum in both sets. One block erased a 13-12 lead in the first set and R.J. Piper’s block of a Connor Reardon kill erased a 16-15 Natick advantage in the second set. Piper’s block sparked Westfield to a 7-2 run and a 22-18 lead.
“We wanted it but Westfield wanted it more,’’ Suxho said about the outcome. “We’ll try to get back next year to win it.’’
James Pavlyuk led Westfield with 18 kills and Natick’s Brendan Carroll had 9 kills while Sam Waltzman excelled on defense with 19 digs. The Bombers ended their season at 22-3.
The Redhawks’ victory against Winchester in the semifinals after losing the first two sets (22-25 and 24-26) was spectacular. They gained some momentum in the third set on a Reardon kill and took a 9-8 lead that they never relinquished (25-20). That energy and enthusiasm carried them to decisive triumphs in the fourth set (25-14) and a dynamic 15-4 margin in the final set. Reardon finished with 20 kills and 16 digs.
“We were nervous at the start and felt the pressure,’’ Suxho said. “They took us out of our comfort zone but everyone regrouped and played harder. Connor excelled along with Brett Olen, Will Landry and Brendan Carroll.’’
The Sectional was won in methodical fashion with Natick relying on consistency as it captured its third straight crown. The Redhawks defeated Lincoln-Sudbury, 3-1, in the playoff final. The scores were 25-21, 23-25, 25-23, and 25-21.
It was a seesaw match that saw neither squad hold a lead of more than five points in the four sets.
“I’m very proud of them,’’ said Suxho after the Sectional . “It’s been a special year because we graduated eight seniors. Everyone improved and gained experience from day one and the players showed that hard work and desire are important.’’
Suxho was effusive in his praise of Olen, the only returnee. The senior setter, a Bay State Conference all-star, was dynamic throughout the sectional that also included victories over Worcester North, King Philip, and Milford. Olen had 43 assists against Lincoln-Sudbury and tallied 48 against Milford in the semifinal matchup.
“Brett should be the Player of the Year,’’ Suxho said. “Without him, maybe we don’t qualify for the tournament. He’s been our setter for the last three years and we’ve won three consecutive Sectional championships. A two-time captain, he’s a great leader who relies on quickness and a high volleyball IQ. His best skill is reading his opponent, adjusting and making good decisions. He’s one of the best setters I’ve had in all my years coaching volleyball.’’
Olen labeled Natick’s Sectional championship as “a great team win,’’ adding that “we spread it out and had great team passing.’’
Suxho heaped praise on the rest of his cast —Reardon (outside hitter), Carroll (outside hitter), Landry (right-side hitter), and Waltzman (libero).
“Connor is a senior who played his first varsity year,’’ Suxho said. “He’s a captain and a great leader and motivator. Brendan is quick and strong and gives us energy. Will is another captain who’s very versatile and a strong attack player. Sam is a first-year player who’s quick, fast and very aggressive.’’
The Redhawks, who finished their regular season at 12-4, opened tourney play by ousting Worcester North, 3-1, in the first round. Reardon had 11 kills and 5 blocks while Olen had 32 assists. Suxho’s contingent took a 2-0 lead, saw its advantage dwindle to 2-1 after the third set but bounced back in the fourth set to end the match. Natick’s scores were 25-9, 25-13, 23-25, and 25-12.
After a 3-0 triumph over King Philip in the quarterfinals in Wrentham, the Redhawks faced Milford and were able to secure a hard-fought 3-2 victory in the Scarlet Hawks’ gymnasium where high temperatures and heat tested both teams’ endurance. Five consecutive points in the fifth set enabled the Redhawks to clinch the semifinal contest and advance to the tourney final. Olen controlled Natick’s tempo against Milford and Reardon led the offense with 12 kills.
After the State tourney, individual honors went to Olin and Reardon who were all-scholastic choices by the Boston Globe. And, Suxho was selected as the Globe’s coach of the year. Suxho, who directed Natick to a State title in 2007, made his team’s long journey to the final well worth it with these profound words after the loss to Westfield:
“Keep your head up and don’t forget that you’re winners. Good luck in the future. And, for those returning next year, the season starts tonight.’’