Train Keeps Rolling Down the Tracks for Groton-Dunstable
WELLESLEY -- With just 12 players on the roster and no traditional success to hang their hats on, the Groton-Dunstable girls volleyball team has had to rely on hard work and mental toughness to find success.
That formula worked quite well throughout the fall for the Crusaders. But if they were going to make history on Saturday afternoon, they needed to do so against a top-seeded Canton team that was playing in the Division 2 Central final for the third time in the last four years.
The second-seeded Crusaders rose to the occasion and twice came back from being a set down to defeat the Bulldogs, 3-2, at Wellesley High School and capture their first-ever sectional crown in the sport.
Groton-Dunstable advanced to the Division 2 state semifinals against Lynnfield (date and location to be determined). Canton finished at 19-3.
“This team digs in when they need to,” said G-D head coach Lori Herberich. “It’s unbelievable how well they’ve played together. They know each other well, they’re friends. I’ve coached a bunch of them for a long time -- two years on JV and two years on varsity. They’re just a good unit, and I know that sounds very cliché, but it’s so true with this team.
“We got better as the season went on, for sure. This is not how we started, but the intensity and them working together and having each other’s backs started in the beginning.”
After losing the first set, 25-20, G-D bounced back with a 25-14 win. The Crusaders then lost the third set, 25-16, and rebounded with a 25-19 victory. In the fifth and final set, Groton-Dunstable dominated with a 15-7 triumph that saw it finish on a 12-4 run and score the final four points of the match.
Senior Lily Blodgett hammered down a point to end it and a large contingent of G-D fans erupted in celebration, which was soon followed by a photo session on the court with the Central championship trophy.
“It means so much to the program,” said senior captain Lydia Pray. “We put so much effort in. We do two-and-a-half-hour practices every day, sometimes three hours. We’re putting in work six days a week, and this is what it’s all for.”
Groton-Dunstable improved to 20-2. Blodgett had 17 kills for G-D, while Peter White had 11 digs. Carolyn Mullins added 14 kills and seven blocks, while Lauren Kenney chipped in three service points and six assists.
The Crusaders had to contend with Canton’s size at the net, namely senior Erin Devine, who was a force all match long. Junior Taylor Harris also hurt G-D with some emphatic and well-placed kills.
Blodgett, who is committed to play at Merrimack College, was G-D’s best weapon up front to counter Canton’s attack. She smashed a kill to put an end to an impressive second set. Meanwhile, the libero White was everywhere for Groton-Dunstable, displaying an outstanding ability to read the Bulldogs’ shots.
“A lot of credit to Canton. They kept us on our toes and they have a great team,” said Herberich. “We just tried to read (Devine) and dig her. We tried to read her shoulders and her arm and her hand. We did change our defensive system towards the end there and that was working. The kids are really smart and they’re always looking for a different way to keep the ball off the floor.”
Each of the sets saw a team grab a commanding advantage early, with the exception of the fourth set. That was tied at 16-16 until G-D closed with a 9-3 run to grab momentum heading into the decisive fifth set.
Canton was plagued by unforced errors in the final frame. White landed an ace to put G-D up 10-6 and the Crusaders could start to smell the victory.
“To bring home a banner and a trophy for our school is amazing,” said Herberich. “We’re a small school and this means a ton for everybody. Our fans have been great, especially the parents.”
The Crusaders received the hero’s welcome back home. Once returning to town, the team bus was escorted by police cruisers and fire engines back to the school.