Supersonic Spartans: Varsity Volleyball Sets Tournament Trajectory

Groton, MA — Now 9-1 and halfway through their schedule, it’s full speed ahead for Lawrence Academy’s varsity volleyball team, as the prospect of a NEPSAC playoff berth begins to emerge over the not-so-distant horizon.

“We were all excited to build upon last year’s success and hit the ground running at preseason,” head coach Steve Engstrom reflected after tallying another victory, this time over Governor’s Academy on Saturday.

“I think we’re all surprised by where we are right now, but we are staying focused,” he said. “We started strong during our first big contests, but we’re now halfway through our very long season and have some very tough opponents coming up.”

Not that they haven’t played some talented teams already…

The Spartans only loss so far this season came against an impressive St. Paul’s squad, a game Coach Engstrom describes as a “five-set marathon” against “a very strong Class A team with a number of talented athletes” [Lawrence is Class B].

“Even though we came out with a loss, I was very proud of the team’s resolve to stay in it to the end, only to lose 13-15 in the last set,” he said.

However, it’s the 3-2 win over Middlesex at the end of September that Mr. Engstrom points out as the first major 2017 highlight.

“They are one of the strongest programs around,” he stated.  “Beating them was huge.”

Looking back at LA’s schedule from last season, it’s clear why the victory was so crucial to the Spartans.

During the fall of 2016, LA suffered two critical losses to Middlesex in their regular season matchups, then an additional setback in the first round of playoffs. After eliminating the Spartans, Middlesex eventually went on to win the NEPSAC tournament.

“This year they were undefeated when they came to LA,” Mr. Engstrom noted. “So it was a big match leading up to that day.”

Today, when it comes to leaders and players stepping up to the challenge, Engstrom explained, “It’s clear that the addition of Gabi (Bailey ’19) has created some new opportunities and raised the level of our play.

“Perhaps most important is how her skills and intensity have improved the team’s play as a whole.”

Combined with Gabi’s talent and experience, returning starters like Dasha Zhuravleva ’19 and Nicole Winthrop ’19 have stepped up as well in an offense that highlights their respective setting skills and versatility in moving positions.

It’s a line that’s sure to keep opponents on their toes.

“This season is different in that we are motivated in preparing for each opponent thinking that we have all the pieces to win and we can win if we play our best,” explained Coach Engstrom. “The volleyball program has not always been in that position, so this season is special.”

With the NEPSAC tournament in sight, the team shows no signs of easing up anytime soon as they aim for a playoff berth — and, given their momentum, maybe more.

Of course, in such a competitive league, “there is nothing guaranteed”; with games remaining against St. Paul’s, Nobles, and Middlesex, “there are a number of must-wins ahead which will test our focus and longevity.”

Yet these challenges have only served to boost the team’s desire and determination going forward.

“It’s quite a feat just to make playoffs in Class B, with only 8 of 27 teams qualifying,” acknowledged Coach Engstrom. “We had a taste of it last year, and the team wants to be back.”

With only two home games remaining, make sure to catch the Spartans on Parents’ Weekend when they take on Nobles on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 3:00 PM on the Stone Courts in the athletic center.