Season of great strides

DERRY – Her second season at the helm just completed, 15-3 with a trip to the NHIAA Division II volleyball state semifinals behind her, Milford High coach Elizabeth Solan stood off the court at Pinkerton Academy, smiling – with a tear in her eye.

Her Spartans fell to eventual state champ Windham in the semifinal, but Solan couldn’t help but focus on the program and where it has come.

Quarterfinals in her first season, semis this year with a slew of sophomores in tow.

“I’m just excited to see what next year brings with the younger girls,” said the 2008 Milford High grad Solan, a four-year varsity starter for the Spartans back in her day.

“We’re trying to move forward. We have a lot of big incoming groups. We had a JV squad of 12 freshmen that was very good, and there’s about eight girls in the incoming eighth grade group. “The program is continuing to grow.”

Volleyball is hot in Milford.

You can see it in the girls play and in the excitement in the stands.

And while Solan will say goodbye to a couple valuable seniors, the heart of the program continues to beat loud and strong.

“It’s definitely my libero, Julia Guarniere,” said Solan.

“She has been my glue, my spark plug. She holds it together for everyone. She’s made a huge difference.”

Solan used the word “Family” a half dozen times as she spoke about her program.

She remembered the fun she had playing volleyball and all sports in high school.

“I know what the impact they had on my life,” she said.

“I’m just hoping I can bring that back here, like it was when I played.”

TOUGH LOSS IN STATE SEMIS

Back-to-back epic games, and Milford High just couldn’t get one of them.

“We have five different sophomores, and only two seniors,” explained Solan.

They have to learn somewhere, and last Wednesday night’s Division II State Semifinal with No. 3 Windham was like a class lesson on big time pressure.

Squeaking out the first two — 28-26 and 26-24 — Windham finished the job on No. 2 Milford, 25-13, in the third, ending the superb Spartans’ campaign.

“We had them in both games. We were ahead in both games. We’re a young squad. They let their foot off the pedal a little bit and let them climb back in, and that was the difference in the first two.”

Now, it’s time for the coach to say goodbye to a pair of incredible senior leaders.

“She has been a right side, who started as a setter,” said Solan of co-captain Ellie Chappell. “She progressed into defense, and she’s been so great back there. She’s such a positive person and is so positive with her teammates.”

The other senior is co-captain Olivia Blanchet, who before the year sacrificed the libero spot to junior Julia Guarniere.

“I gave that decision to her, and she gave it up for the betterment of the team,” said Solan. “I can’t tell you how big that was for us. The two of them ended up working so well together out there.”

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