TEWKSBURY — Winning a state championship isn’t easy. But bringing your ‘A’ game makes that task infinitely easier.
That’s exactly what the Ipswich High volleyball team did Saturday afternoon. The top seeded Tigers left no doubt which Division 4 team was the best in Massachusetts, beating No. 3 Medway in three straight sets to put the icing on a terrific 22-1 season.
The winning point was an ace serve by junior Grace Sorensen, who was a leader in all three sets.
“What a finish!” said second-year Tigers head coach Staci Sonke after the first volleyball crown in school history.
“This is crazy,” added Sorensen. “We came out on our ‘A’ game, and honestly we weren’t nervous. We knew this was our last time playing together and didn’t want it to end with a loss.”
The first two sets were back and forth, but the Tigers dug deep to pull off wins. They had a much easier time in the third, capturing a title-clinching 25-16 triumph.
It was fitting that after falling behind in the third set, Ipswich roared back to take a 10-6 lead. Although the Tri-Valley League champs from Medway fought to close the gap to 14-12, they couldn’t get any closer.
Ipswich captain Claire O’Flynn contributed strong net play while co-captain Liz Linkletter served two aces in a row to put her team in command, 18-12. Sorensen ended the day serving a ball that Medway could not return.
The first order of business for the Tigers — even before getting the state trophy and banner, was to sing Happy Birthday to O’Flynn — who played a key role in helping the Orange-and-Black team come out on top.
“This championship is the best birthday present ... although it did put more pressure on me because I kept thinking I can’t lose on my birthday,” said O’Flynn.
“Winning the first set was the key because it gave us confidence. That set the atmosphere for the second one. Medway is a good team and really challenged us, but every time we fell behind coach called a time out to let us reset our brains.”
Sonke said she knew Medway was aggressive, having had the chance to watch some of their state semifinal win over Lynnfield on Wednesday, and that the Tigers would have to match that aggression.
“”All season long we set small goals to fill as the building blocks to get here. The girls have all worked so hard to get to this point ... and we wanted to finish it,” said Sonke. “Our senior captains, Claire and Liz, stepped up big.”
Middle blocker Claire O’Flynn and outside hitter Sorensen each had four blocks while teammate Meghan Wallace chipped in with three. Sorensen also had seven kills, middle blocker Wallace six, and O’Flynn five while Linkletter led in aces with four.
The first set was tied eight times before Ipswich broke a 25-25 tie on two big plays by O’Flynn to win, 27-25. The Mustangs’ 6-foot-2 outside hitter, Maggie Regan, delivered several big kills to keep her team in the contest, but Sorensen and Wallace answered for the Tigers.
The second set was just as close as the first, tied 13 times with the lead changing hands 10 times. The last tie was at 23-23 before a Sorensen kill and a Linkletter serve that could not be returned for the 25-23 IHS win. The Tigers had good serves from Ella Stein, Kendra Brown, and Tess O’Flynn.
“”This is so crazy that it doesn’t feel real yet,” said Linkletter. “We rely on each other, support each other, and all that positive energy paid off.”
After two highly competitive sets with long volleys, Ipswich closed it out with a strong third set. Medway took a 3-0 lead before the Tigers answered on four straight service points by Stein. They never looked back, building up a six-point lead after Sorensen had a pair of aces ,including one for the final point in the 25-16 win.
Sonke did a masterful job calling timeouts whenever Medway rallied or pulled ahead. “Whenever I felt the girls began to lose focus, we just needed a few seconds to get together to regain focus, “ she said. “If you don’t, it’s easy to get lost. So you need a break to reset.”
O’Flynn and Linkletter were presented with a nice state championship trophy, and the team celebrated as fans mobbed the court.
Contact Jean DePlacido @JeanDePlacidoSN