By Mike Grenier
---- — Salem High girls volleyball coach Craig Massey had barely finished talking about the high hopes he had for his own team this season when he passed out an unsolicited compliment to the Peabody Tanners.
“If you’re talking about the best teams on the North Shore,” said Massey, “then I’d have to say that Peabody is the team to beat. They have the returning (Northeastern Conference) MVP in Carolyn Scacchi. I think Scacchi and one of my own kids, Hannah Mullarkey, are the two best players in the conference.”
Lisa Keene, who is starting her 10th season as the Peabody coach, has an enviable record for consistency, guiding the Tanners to the state tournament for nine consecutive years. The team was especially good last season, rolling to a 17-1 regular season record, and Scacchi completed her junior year with her second straight conference MVP designation.
Still, the season left the Tanners wanting much more. Peabody was seemingly in an advantageous position with a first round bye in the Division 1 North segment of the state tourney, but when it was time to take the court, the Tanners were ousted by Central Catholic of Lawrence, 3-1.
Unfortunately for Peabody, that’s been the postseason pattern in recent years. The Tanners have won 39 regular season matches in the last three years but are 0-3 in the tourney (most of them against the Merrimack Valley Conference). The last time they made a splash in the postseason was in 2009, when 14-4 Peabody blanked Medford, 3-0, in the opening round before losing to Methuen by the same score in the Division 1 North quarterfinals.
While Peabody doesn’t intend to overlook any opponent in a regular season schedule that will include new varsity programs from Danvers, Marblehead and Winthrop, it clearly wants to establish itself as a dangerous postseason team too.
“Getting a bye in the state tourney is great because you move on (to the next round),” said Keene. “But when you lose like we did last year, it’s always disappointing. You work hard to get to that point and then it’s all over. The positive development that came out of it was that we did take a game from Central Catholic. It was a good step because we’d never been able to do that before against a team from the Merrimack Valley Conference.
“The thing about our team is that we’ve made it to the North semifinals before (2004), so it can be done,” added Keene. “I think we’re going to have a real strong team this season and one of the goals for the kids is to be better (in the postseason).”
Scacchi, a 6-foot-2 basketball standout who has also excelled on the volleyball court in her first three seasons, is a building block that any team on the North Shore would love to have. She goes into the season with 427 career kills and 208 of those came last year, which shows you how dramatic the improvement was from previous seasons.
“She gives us great leadership and commands the court,” Keene said of Scacchi. “One of her best assets is that she’s a great defensive player. She’s an excellent passer, she can set and assist – she’s the entire package. She gives us 100 percent in volleyball, it’s no different than what she gives in basketball. Whatever season it is, that’s her passion.”
Along with Scachhi, who is listed as a middle hitter, Peabody will also rely heavily on senior outside hitter Olivia Summit, a solid athlete who has pretty good height at 5-feet, 11-inches.
“Olivia is just very versatile,” said Keene. “She’s ambidextrous, equally strong with both hands, and that’s a great thing in this game. And she also makes good decisions.
“Right now Carolyn and Olivia are the only experienced players we really have. It concerns me a little bit. We have to work on chemistry, need to understand each other on the court. It takes time, but I think this is a very intelligent team.”
Senior outside hitters Jillian DeFelice and Katie Gallo join Scacchi as captains for Peabody, a team that appears to have considerable upside.
“Peabody is just very good,” said Beverly coach Pam Padovani. “It starts with Carolyn Scacchi but they have depth too. I think Scacchi is being recruited for both basketball and volleyball because of her size and athletic ability, and she’s as great a kid as she is a player.”
The expansion of the Northeastern Conference suggests that Peabody will have some easy wins against first-year programs at a time when the Tanners need more severe tests. However, Keene prefers to look at the long term benefits.
“I like the idea of new teams,” said Keene. “We’re going to have a full division, that’s for sure. When I think back to where we were at the beginning, struggling and bickering, to where we are now – it’s pretty amazing. Now it’s a serious game for our kids, and I know these new teams will be enthusiastic. The league will continue to build and I’m excited about that.”