After the bell rang at the end of the school day, the Dunn Gym was completely silent. No lights on, no stands open, no nets set up, nothing. But later the gymnasium, which had no commotion at all just hours before at 2:05 p.m., was the headquarters of the most competitive volleyball team in the Merrimack Valley. The spirit filling the room seemed as vital as the very oxygen we breathe. A crowd of Jungle animals stood in the stands, frantically cheering on the Andover Warriors Girls Volleyball team, a program that is one of the best in the state of Massachusetts.
The Andover Warriors Girls Volleyball team had a magical run ended on November 13 at the hands of Barnstable, who went on to win the post-season tournament. This marked only the second Golden Warriors loss of the year and effectively snapped a 23-game winning streak, including playoffs.
“Last year we graduated nine seniors, eight of [whom] were starters, when most teams only play seven players, maybe eight players,” said Coach Sullivan. “That’s a lot to lose.” At the beginning of the season, it seemed as if no one expected Andover to fare especially well this year.
The idea that this year was more of a rebuilding year than anything else may have been a big part of Andover’s success. In all sports at all levels, the team that flies under the radar is often the team that goes on an inspired playoff run.
“[Since the beginning of the season] we have been the underdogs,” said senior volleyball player Sarah Kenyon, “which is the best place to be.”
In the 2012 season, the Lady Warrior’s also posted 23 wins, with their only loss coming when they got knocked out of the tournament. Even the players seem to agree that this feat seemed like a tough one to match.
“[At the beginning of the season] we thought we were going to be sub-par,” shared Kenyon.
Of course, they turned out to be nothing short of spectacular. The very first loss of the season ignited a spark in this team that was nearly impossible to distinguish. That particular loss came at the hands of their rivals, North Andover, which Andover has shown dominance towards in past seasons. That loss was not just a slap to the face of history, but also started a drive towards wanting to start a winning streak.
“We instantly became more competitive as a team [once we lost to NA] because the loss sunk in quickly.” said senior Monika Sudol. “Knowing we already had an uncertain feeling going into the season, that loss hit us more towards the heart because of how successful we have been against them.”
Andover went on to win twelve games in a row prior to facing North Andover for the second time, a game in which Andover avenged themselves with a strong win of three sets to none. They went on to eliminate North Andover in the playoffs, dealing them their only two losses of the season. From there, Andover found themselves on their way to Bridgewater to play Barnstable for the Division 1 East Final.
“We as a coaching staff thought we would make states, maybe with 10-11 wins but 23-2, MVC Co-Champions, Northern Champions and State Semi-Finals? Never,” said Sullivan. “I’m so proud of their hard work, dedication, and achievement that I’m at a loss for words.”
Despite his glowing review of the team’s numerous accomplishments, Sullivan is hardly devoid of disappointment. After all, once the playoff run began, everybody thought that they could win States.
Kenyon said prior to the Barnstable game that she believed this team could “go all the way.”
Said Coach Sullivan after the loss: “We made several errors in that game. The hitters were off and our defense had problems… Every coach is disappointed with a loss, most of all at the end of the season. The only one that is happy is the number one team because they won. It’s always hard, because both the coaches and the players put so much into the season and to see it end that way.”
Although the end to their season was less than ideal, it is hard to deny that many great things came out of this season, especially the playoff run. The Jungle–mainly reserved for basketball and rarely spotted in such large force at a girls sporting event–was supporting their lady Warriors in unprecedented numbers. Even attendance at games many miles away was high. Much of the school seemed to be emotionally engaged in the tournament, and that type of spirit and support tends to have an impact on athletics.
“The Jungle really gives the team a positive influence,” said Sudol. “We are really appreciative of them. It gives us a sense of community because you feel like ‘your own’ is behind you.”
Kenyon says of the Jungle, “If you are down in the game, and then look up at the Jungle going crazy, it makes you feel a lot better about your spirits. It’s nice to know how our school cares and supports us.”
Not only did this team feel as if they had become a close-knit family throughout the year, but also that their friends and classmates wanted them to succeed, too. A high volume of students were so invested in the team that they took a fan bus over 50 miles on a school night to cheer them on, something that has not happened in past years.
Now, the Dunn gym is quiet. In the weird transition period between fall sports and winter sports, it is easy to ascribe one loss to the value of a season. But, this year’s volleyball team has showed what the true meaning of Warrior heart is. Beginning the season with more doubt than confidence, they strived to become a family and go to a place that no one expected at the start. Even though they did not get the win we all had hoped for, they still created a run and a bond that can hold more value than any single game. Now as the Dunn gym awaits winter sports, it also will still be waiting for the girls to come back next fall to make another run, to improve from last year, and to continue the success of Andover Warriors volleyball.
By Nick Valeri and Tim Yaghmoorian