Merrimack ready for wide-open tournament

The fun begins for high school girls volleyball players around the area as the state tournament gets underway in three divisions. But it’s Division I that could have the most fun on display.

If you talk to a few coaches, they’ll tell you this year’s tourney could be one of the most entertaining in recent years.

"Bedford, Bishop Guertin, Hollis Brookline, Concord, Goffstown," Merrimack coach Tammy Lambrou said, her team the defending Division I state champion and top seed this year at 17-1. "Everybody we played had a couple of good kids. Not one team we played that didn’t have a good kid on the team."

Translation? A tourney where anyone has a chance.

Merrimack drew an improved Nashua South squad in Thursday’s opener (results not available at presstime). The Panthers, which are the 16th seed at 5-13, improved by two wins from last year after not making the tourney. But South, which was swept by Merrimack in the season opener, doesn’t have a player like senior Jo Coffey, who set the state career assist record this year. But even Coffey and the Tomahawks enjoyed the few days off up tot he start of the tourney.

"She’s just a competitor anyway," Lambrou said. "But it was nice, we need the break."

Hollis Brookline may stand in Merrimack’s way as the fourth seed (15-3). The Cavs host No. 13 Alvirne (7-11), but keep an eye on that. Alvirne took HB to five sets in a 3-2 loss just last week.

In the other bracket, Bishop Guertin had a good season (12-6) as the sixth seed, but one of those losses came to its first round opponent, No. 11 Londonderry (9-9), in another five-set battle. Also in that bracket is Nashua North, a semifinalist last year but a 15th seed this season at 6-12 and on the road to face No. 2 Spaulding (16-2). The Red Raiders swept the Titans 3-0 earlier this season.

"We could be a spoiler, we really could," North coach John Connolly said, happy with how his team played down the stretch led by young up-and-comer Michaela Choate. "There is no strong team. Pinkerton, Merrimack, Spaulding and Hollis – I’ve seen them all have really bad moments. I don’t care where the bus takes us, we could make some noise."