PEABODY — When the volleyball season hits its peak in the state tournament, you don’t want to be matched up against the Valley.
For the ninth year in a row, the Peabody High volleyball squad saw its season end against a team from the Merrimack Valley Conference as No. 7 Central Catholic topped the second-seeded Tanners, 3-1, in a Division 1 North quarterfinal at Peabody High.
Peabody (17-2) fell behind, 2-0, on 25-16 and 25-19 games, then rallied to win the third game. Junior Jillian DiFelica served five straight points to give the hosts the third set, 25-23, but the Raiders scored the first nine points of the fourth and won, 25-13, to seal the match.
“We showed a lot of spunk in that third game, so much that we probably drained ourselves a bit,” said Peabody head coach Lisa Keene. “That game was a big win for us. We played Central in the tournament last year, and they killed us. To me, to get that win was one of the highlights of the season.”
Junior Carolyn Scacchi was a force at the front of the net for the Tanners, collecting two blocks and 13 kills. The 6-foot-2 middle hitter now has 205 kills in her career and is the first Peabody player to pass the 200-kill mark, according to Keene.
Defending North champion Central Catholic (15-5) moves on to the sectional semis at North Andover (17-5) tomorrow. The Raiders were intent on keeping the ball away from Scacchi and used precision passing from setter Olivia Imprescia to do just that.
“She’s big and physical, and we knew coming in we had to stay away from her,” Central coach Gannon Paris said of Scacchi. “We wanted to control the ball and control where we were swinging from to stay away from that strength.”
Imprescia had 42 assists, dishing to 6-foot Amanda Williams (17 kills) on one side and 6-foot-1 Erica Hadad (11 kills) on the other. The versatility made it difficult for Peabody to defend the net and helped Central win the first two games.
The Tanners then slid junior Olivia Summit to the middle alongside Scacchi. The hosts kept it close in that stanza, with senior setter Jen Pearl (16 assists) finding her rhythm setting up Scacchi for momentum-swinging kills.
“We struggled with passing and serving at times, and it kind of came together tonight in that game,” Keene said. “That was rewarding for the girls, to see all that practice time and drills paying off.”
Central build a 20-15 lead in the third game but Peabody rallied. The Tanners scored the last five points, turning a 23-19 hole into a 25-23 win on DeFelice’s serve.
“They stuck with us in that third game. We never had that rally to put us in front, which we had in the games we won,” Paris said. “Especially here, with a great crowd and a lot of emotion, we didn’t want to give them anything to get happy about. We needed to limit their rallies and stop them from scoring consecutive points so they didn’t get their crowd going.”
The Raiders did exactly that in the final set, riding libero Michelle Bouchard’s serve to the first nine points of the game. The Tanners fell behind 13-3 and couldn’t stage a run of their own to keep the match alive, falling 25-13. Keene was also impressed with Bouchard’s ability to defend and get the ball to setter Imprescia.
“She’s one of the best I’ve seen,” Keene said of Bouchard, who had 33 digs. “She got to everything, and she made sure their setter didn’t have to work so hard to make all those passes.”
The Tanners’ 17 wins were the most for the team since 2007 and tied for the second most in Keene’s nine seasons. The NEC champs graduate five seniors in Pearl, Mikayla Wallace (four kills, one block), Kim Sousa (two kills, two assists), Lauryn Zaimes (two assists, one ace) and libero Catherine Houlden.
“They’re all amazing girls, great students that really worked hard,” Keene said of the seniors. “This team had great morale and they kept that going. They’re true leaders on and off the court.”