Seventy-five points.

That's what separates the Danvers High volleyball team from its first Division 2 state championship.

If they can take three sets from Canton High at Worcester State University Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.), the Falcons (25-0) will not only finish the season unbeaten, but go down in both school and North Shore annals as the best girls volleyball team of all time.

"This is it," said the Falcons' 30-year-old head coach, George LeVasseur. "It's awesome to see the kids' mindset; they're so excited to be a part of this. It's something they've wanted and worked towards long before this season even began. Now the time is here."

As the Central bracket titlists, Canton comes into the championship match sporting a 21-3 record. Ironically, LeVasseur was sitting next to the Bulldogs' highly respected Pat Cowley at an all-state meeting a few weeks ago, and the two coaches thought maybe they'd see each other in the state final.

"Their bracket to get here was a gauntlet like ours," said LeVasseur. "Canton had to beat an excellent Westborough team (3-1) in their second final, then unbeaten Minnechaug (3-1) in the semis."

Canton has won 12 of the 14 sets it has played this postseason; Danvers is a sterling 15-1 in its 16 sets, with the only blemish a Game 1 setback in the quarterfinals against Burlington. 

Both programs are relative newbies when it comes to the state championship picture in volleyball, where teams like Barnstable, Frontier Regional, Hopkinton, Newton Newton, Minnechaug, Lynnfield, Westborough and Melrose have traditionally been at or near the top. Either the Falcons or Bulldogs will crash that party late Saturday afternoon.

Having seen them on film, LeVasseur said that Canton is one of the bigger blocking teams his own squad will have seen all season. They're scrappy defensively and have a couple of players who can really put the ball away.

Outside hitter Taylor Harris is the Bulldogs' top offensive go-to player. She has an incredible 361 kills on the season and takes about 40 percent of her team's swings. 

To combat that, the Falcons will rely on their ability to read the hitter and try to figure out what will happen and where the ball might go before it actually happens.

"We've got to play towards her tendencies," LeVasseur said of Harris. "That means being fast on our toes and strong defensively. Maddie (Montanari) and Lily (Eldridge) have to continue to do what they've been doing all season: setting the block well and setting up our defense for success."

Junior middle hitter Liz Bickett is another key piece to the Canton puzzle, a dynamic player who spreads the ball well and hits to spots all over the court. LeVasseur has had his team practicing to defend this by spreading the floor and hammering home the point that anyone on the court could get the ball from her at any time. 

Junior outside hitter Carly Goodhue leads Danvers with 266 kills; her hitting percentage of .410 not only led the Northeastern Conference, but also places her seventh in the entire state. Eldridge, a junior setter, has already broken the Falcons' mark for most assists in one season with 675 and has already surpassed 1,000 for her career.

Junior middle blockers Shayla Saad and captain Megan Murphy both have 52 blocks; by comparison, Bickett's 31 are tops on the Bulldogs. Senior captain Jianna Durand, an outside hitter, junior libero Cassidy Malley and Montanari, another senior captain who plays both opposite and right side attacker, are the Falcons' other cornerstone players.

Montanari, Durand and Murphy went to the MIAA Breakfast of Champions on Thursday, and LeVasseur said it hit home for his leaders to realize they were in a room with the captains of the five other teams that are still playing volleyball at this juncture of the season. Three of those teams will be crowned champions Saturday, and for Danvers, they want to be standing atop the Division 2 mountaintop.

"What these girls realize is that no matter what happens on Saturday, it's the end. That hits them more than winning or losing," said LeVasseur. 

"These girls have so much more success when they have fun together. As cliche as that sounds, these girls function best when they're really focusing on each other and helping each other come back from mistakes," he added. "(Saturday), nothing else matters except the people wearing Danvers High volleyball jerseys; that's the sole focus. That's how you have to look at it."



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