(written, shot, edited and narrated for Somerville Patch)
The Prospect Hill Academy volleyball team prides itself on its communication and passing, and both were key Thursday afternoon at Cambridge’s Moore Youth Center, when the Wizards beat the Boston Collegiate Hurricanes in two games.
Though the first game began with back-and-forth scoring, the Wizards took control midway through. The Wizards played more vocal volleyball, constantly calling for the ball and aggressively passing.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, frequently stared at each other as balls bounced in between players. And though the Hurricanes’ bench kept the chatter going throughout the match, their voices paled in comparison to the enthusiastic and supportive chants emanating constantly from the Wizards.
“In practice, we’re always asking them to focus and cheer each other on or help each other out,” PHA coach Suzie Ramirez said.
Captain Aaliyah Mercer exemplified the aggressiveness that led to the Wizards’ 25-20 victory in the first game, serving, setting and passing extremely well. When the Hurricanes went on a 4-0 run to tie the game 16-16, Mercer’s diving serve-return gave the Wizards back both the serve and the lead.
Both teams are very inexperienced: the Hurricanes played their first game of the season Thursday, and the Wizards are still transitioning from a club team to the varsity squad that will play next season.
Because of this inexperience, simply getting the serve in was crucial, especially in the second game. Each team committed 12 service errors in Game 2, and nearly all the players used the underhand serving style common with young volleyball players.
The serve was so crucial that of the 20 serves between the Wizards and Hurricanes that stayed in play, only six resulted in the serve-receiving team scoring a point. Seventy percent of the time, getting the serve over the net guaranteed your team a point.
The Wizards took control of the second game through power serving by Senior Allan Piazzarollo and Mercer. Piazzarollo’s two aces pushed the Wizards’ lead to 18-14, and Mercer followed Piazzarollo, ripping two overhand-serves far too powerful for the Hurricanes to handle.
Mercer was one of only a couple players to try serving overhand Thursday, and was by far the most effective.
“The reason I subbed them in was because they did have some energy,” coach Allison Heyl said. “So I was trying to bring them out there to bring the team up, as well as they have strong serves.”
After Piazzarollo’s setting gave the Wizards a six-point lead late in the game, the Wizards won the final point of the game and match after senior Yanita Santos returned three consecutive volleys over the net, the final of which drifted away from the Hurricanes and bounced out-of-bounds on the attempted pass. The Wizards won, 20-19.
Captain Maishka Antoine credited the team’s victory to preparation and practice
“A lot of it is coming down to commitment,” Antoine said. “Coming on time, being there, making sure you’re ready to play, that plays a lot into it.”
The Wizards are still at a basic level of volleyball strategy. Beyond the reliance on underhand serving, the team still tries to put the ball over the net on one pass each time. The traditional “bump, set, spike” sequence is still beyond their capabilities, and only one person even attempted to spike the ball.
Still, Antoine says she’s seen the team improve their passing skills consistently since the start of the season.
“First time, some girls couldn’t even bump it over the net,” Antoine says. “And now, almost every single one is going over the net.”
For Mercer, the Wizards have grown most as servers, both in how accurate they are and how committed to serve-improvement they’ve become.
“Our serves are amazing,” Mercer said. “They’re on-point, everyone can serve, and it’s just awesome.”
When asked about where the team could still improve, coaches Heyl and Ramirez said the team didn’t play with sufficient energy. A busy academic week at a school that places education far above athletics, the coaches said, might have been the reason why.