Photos by Suzanne Jolley
After beating 10th seeded Braintree in the first round this past Saturday, the #7 Stoughton High volleyball team traveled to #2 Barnstable in the quarterfinals of the MIAA Division 1 South Sectional tournament Monday night.
Barnstable, a Massachusetts high school volleyball powerhouse - back-to-back state D1 state champions, and winners of 14 of the last 19 D1 championships - beat Stoughton in straight sets 25-4, 25-11 and 25-18, ending the Black Knights' historic season.
Stoughton, 13-5 in the regular season (and 14-6 overall), finished with the best mark in the program's brief five year history.
And so despite the loss, where it took Stoughton until the midpoint of the second set to settle in, coach Ken Gay told his team after the match to keep the "big picture" in mind.
"The big picture is no one expected us to do what we did," Gay said.
Stoughton came into this season fresh off its first winning record and first state tournament appearance, but lost Julia Quattrucci, Katherine Chlus, Malykah Lopes and Andrea Chica to graduation, players who had been with the program since its inception, as well as fellow class of 2012 graduates Anthony Jeudy and Nobrina Seng.
But instead of taking a step back, the team improved this fall, and hosted a tournament game, a 3-1 win over Braintree on Nov. 3, the first tournament win in program history.
This year's Stoughton team got contributions from its whole roster, led by Emma Zuk, who runs the offense at setter, and Nicole Daniels at middle hitter/blocker, as well as Kayla Motley, Gabby Medina, Jalen Joseph, Lauren Carmichael, Kadijah Dansby, Ashley Medeiros, Meaghan Hill, Payton Pizzano, Emily Cramer, and Sam Malley, the team's only freshman.
Captains Zuk, Medina and Carmichael are seniors, as are Daniels, Dansby and Joseph, the team's only male. It's another talented group set to depart, but a promising group of six players with varsity experience are set to return.
"Every program loses players and you have to figure out a way - how do you move on from here and I have to start looking at my younger players and who's going to fill that slot," Gay said.
Heading into the Barnstable match, Gay said his team knew what it was up against. Barnstable had dropped just six sets all season, losing only once. MaxPreps had Barnstable ranked second overall in the state - Stoughton was #73.
"One of the things I tried to stress to them...understand that you're going up against a bunch of high school players and what are you? A bunch of high school players. There's no professionals on that Barnstable team," Gay said. "Maybe they're ranked a little higher than us but so was Braintree [Max Preps ranked them #21]...you go with the thought that anything is possible and play our game."
But Barnstable was overpowering from the onset Monday night and some uncharacteristic unforced Stoughton errors dug the Black Knights in an early hole.
But the loss does not in any way diminish what Stoughton was able to accomplish this season and the hopes the team has to continue the success in year six next fall.
"Think about what you did," Gay said he told his players after the match. "You're setting the bar for the future group behind you. This is going to be a tough bar to reach."