DANVERS — The overflow crowd that filled the stands at the Danvers High gymnasium Monday night made the members of the Falcons’ volleyball team proud.
It also made them a bit nervous, at least to start.
“You look up there and there were a lot of people. A lot,” said Danvers junior Lily Eldridge. “It was a little bit intimidating at first; we just had to settle down and get back to playing our game.”
Which is exactly what the Blue-and-White did. After dropping the first set, the Falcons rallied to capture the next three and take down Burlington, 3-1, in their Division 2 North quarterfinal matchup.
A run of 10 straight points helped turn a 12-10 deficit into a commanding 20-12 lead in the fourth and final set as the third seeded Falcons (22-0) sent their fans home happy once again.
“I think the girls thought they had to win not only for themselves, but for everyone in the building. Their nerves got the best of them in that first set,” said Danvers head coach George LeVasseur. “So they came together before the second set without any coach (around) and said, ‘We have to play for the people standing in this circle, no one else.’ When they started to look inward, things really started to come together for them.”
Keeping the best season in program history alive, the Falcons now advance to Thursday’s sectional semifinals back at home (5 p.m.), where they’ll host the winner of Tuesday’s clash between Bishop Fenwick and Bedford.
“It feels great to keep it going ... but we still haven’t reached all of our goals yet,” said Carly Goodhue, an outside hitter who had several monster kills at the net among her game-high 14. She also added 10 digs in the victory.
“We started out slow, but once we found our groove we really played the way we know how; as a team. When we’re doing that, we’re all working as one on the court.”
Sixth seeded Burlington (17-5) pulled away in the first set for a surprising 25-18 win after capturing 10 of the final 14 points. Smart passing and communication from the visitors gave them an early lead.
But the Falcons responded immediately. With a powerful kill by Goodhue starting the set off, Danvers fended off the Red Devils to pick up a much-needed 26-24 triumph.
Showing heart and hustle, senior captain Jianna Durand dove into the metal folding chairs along her own team’s bench to keep a loose ball alive. The play was a microcosm, said LeVasseur, of the change he saw in his squad from the first set to the second and beyond.
"That play there, it speaks to the leadership we have on this team," said LeVasseur. "The girls play like a family; it’s all about unity with them. When we get in a groove like that, they’re tough to beat.”
A timely dig from libero Cassidy Malley helped Danvers close out a 25-18 victory in the third set.
“Cassidy’s someone who’s really come along for us,” LeVasseur said. “She had to step up this season and has progressed tremendously, becoming a huge asset for our team.”
Eldridge (game-high 29 assists, 7 kills, 6 aces, 4 blocks), senior captains Jianna Durand at outside hitter (7 kills, 10 digs, 2 aces) and Maddie Montanari at opposite (6 kills, 4 blocks, 2 aces), as well as middle blockers Shayla Saad and Megan Murphy, helped close out the Red Devils in the fourth and final set, 24-19. A huge block by Eldridge at the net put her team one point away from victory, which they achieved in short order.
“Carly’s had tremendous growth for us this year,” said LeVasseur of the Northeastern Conference’s leader in hitting percentage and kills. “She’s been our outlet when situations get really tough."
“Now we want to keep it going. We’re not done yet,” added Eldridge. “I don’t want it to end.”