HB boys volleyball into semis

By JASON ORFAO

Staff Writer

HOLLIS – The Hollis Brookline boys volleyball team stopped in Massachusetts in mid-May for a couple matches and suffered two of its three losses this season.

Those defeats are now paying dividends during the Cavaliers’ quest to become the best in New Hampshire.

Hollis Brookline was clicking on all cylinders Tuesday as the third-seeded Cavaliers cruised past sixth-seeded John Stark 3-0 by set scores of 25-20, 25-11 and 25-17 in a Division I quarterfinal at Hollis.

The Cavs faced No. 7 Goffstown – a 3-2 upset winner over No. 2 Pinkerton – on Thursday at 5p.m. with a trip to the championship on the line at Nashua High School North. No. 1 Timberlane and No. 4 Windham followed in the opposite semifinal at 7 p.m. Results were not available by Hollis Brookline Journal presstime.

Pinkerton’s elimination means there is no team left in the tournament that has beaten Hollis Brookline this season.

The Massachusetts portion of the schedule hurt the Cavaliers in the short-term standings, but HB coach Ed Leonard believes those losses to Agawam and back-to-back Western Massachusetts champion Westfield made the Cavs realize there was plenty to improve on.

"It kind of turned our season around a little bit," Leonard explained. "We saw how fast they ran. It was really good to see dominant middles … running all kinds of stuff we hadn’t seen. We had to adjust and pick our game up.

"I think it really helped us to see that kind of competition."

Hollis Brookline (16-3) used a balanced approach to oust John Stark (10-8).

Bret Belden paced the Cavs with 11 kills, eight digs and five aces, while Tucker McIlwrath tallied 10 kills and six blocks. Nick Wood chipped in seven kills and Scott VanCoughnett orchestrated the offense with 29 assists, also adding three kills and two aces.

"The keys to victory have been the same keys all season long – just teamwork," Leonard said. "We’re a deep team and we get it done with lots of players. We don’t rely on one big hitter. The ball gets moved around to everyone on the team."

The upset-minded Generals took a 9-6 lead early in the first set, but the Cavs reeled off nine of the next 10 points to seize control with a 15-10 cushion. HB built a 22-14 advantage before Belden finished off the 25-20 first-set victory with a kill.

Hollis Brookline breezed through the second set and didn’t allow the Generals to score three consecutive points until late in the third, just three points away from securing the match. Zack Crooks supplied the quaterfinal-clinching kill.

"You see a team like this and to get to that level, you need more and we’re just not there yet," John Stark coach David Simeone said. "We didn’t lose. We were beaten by a better team."

It was the final match for John Stark seniors Cody Lemay, Sawyer Lemay, Tyler Bossart and Aedan McCarron, who helped the Generals take significant strides over the past year.

"We were 4-12 last year. I think we knew we had more than a chance to grow on that," Simeone said. "We came in right from the get-go ready to work hard. I’m really, really proud of how well they’ve worked to get to where we ended up."