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.

Sean Sheehan ’87: Finding the Best Fit


Like most faculty on the Lawrence Academy campus, Sean Sheehan wears many hats: Director of LA College Counseling, history teacher, varsity football coach, assistant boys’ varsity hockey coach, and advisor.

To cap it all off (no pun intended) he is also an alum, having graduated in 1987.

It’s not about the job…

“I’d have to go back to when I was a student here,” Mr. Sheehan said when asked about his decision to become an educator.

“I was really amazed at how much time and energy the teachers invested in me, which made a huge difference in my development as a student.

“So, when I was in college and started to think about what careers might be attractive to me, I kept coming back to the impact that some of the adults in the Lawrence community had on me,” he said.

Mr. Sheehan remembers, as a student, “one of my former coaches coming over to my house during the summer to have dinner with my parents to explain how the whole college process would work, because no one in my family had ever gone to college.”

This action on his coach’s part stuck with him.

“I was like, wow, this person…this isn’t about his job, he really cares about people, and I think that’s where Lawrence Academy — if you go back to our mission — we really live it: we meet each kid where they are, and then really try to make them better, in all areas of their life here.”


Today, Sean finds himself coaching, teaching and providing the same level of guidance and encouragement he received from his coach so many years ago. In the process, he has witnessed and experienced his fair share of transformations.

“We had this one young man,” he recollected, “and I remember when he graduated, he was sitting on his bed crying.  And I said, ‘What’s up?’, and he said, ‘I can’t put into words how much this place has changed my life.’

“And if you’d known this student as a freshman; he was struggling in the classroom. However, through his hard work and the investment of the adults in him, he was a first-generation kid going to college—it completely transformed his life.

“So, I think that’s the cool thing when you get to see five hundred other stories like that,” he said.

In the college office, Mr. Sheehan emphasizes, “what we’re trying to have kids figure out is, what’s the best fit for you academically, socially, extracurricularly, and then let’s explore some options where you’re going to be able to continue your growth.”

The fact that Mr. Sheehan is also able to teach history and coach multiple seasons is something that he sees as a major asset to his work as a college counselor.

“When I get a student who becomes my counselee in the college office, most likely I’ve either taught that student or I’ve coached them, so I get to know them in a real genuine, authentic way,” he explained. “So, when it comes time for me to write about them and advise them, I’m coming from a position of really knowing the student in a much different, probably deeper way.”

Broadening Horizons

In a way, Mr. Sheehan has been able to connect his expertise in history, which he majored in at Bowdoin, to the kind of work that occurs in the college office; the two seem to complement each other well.

“I love thinking about the past and how it informs what’s going on in our world today,” he said. “But I think even more important than just history, as I often tell the kids, [is that] it’s a great way for them to learn how to write well, how to communicate well, and how to create arguments and back them up with evidence.”

Reflection, self-awareness, communication: in the college search, as well as in the classroom, it all goes into expanding and broadening student horizons.

by Allie Goodrich ’13

One in a series of occasional features on Lawrence Academy faculty…