Coach Dan Young talks to his Salem Girls between the third and fourth game aginst Saulding.
The Hackler Gymnasium was packed last Wednesday night as the defending champion Salem Blue Devils girls volleyball team faced the No. 2 seeded 19-1 Spaulding Red Raiders in the Division 1 semi-finals. Salem defeated Spaulding in the 2007 finals when the Red Raiders entered that game undefeated, so they weren’t about to take anything for granted. Coach Dan Young was just happy to have his entire team healthy for the first time this year, as Robyn Ciriello and Courtney Wright just returned to action two weeks ago, and junior outside hitter Erica Begin just came back to the team three weeks ago. Seniors Amanda Saab and Becca Weiss have been just unbelievable for the Blue Devils and they were once again on this night. Saab came into the match with 600 kills and Weiss was just over the 500 mark in career points served.
The first game was a see-saw battle for much of the contest before Spaulding pulled it out late 25-22, but Salem let the Red Raiders go on a 17-4 run in the second game after being tied at 4-4, and Spaulding was now up 2-0, much like they were in the regular season when they swept the Blue Devils 3-0 in Rochester to give the Blue Devils one of their two losses on the year. Salem has three senior monsters on their team that would have nothing to do with being swept, and the Hackler Gymnasium would be wild and crazy. And very loud for the next hour and a half, as coach Dan Young’s Salem girls won the next two games to knot it all up at 2-2, before Spaulding was able to grab the deciding game 15-11 to meet Pinkerton in the finals.
After the Blue Devils picked themselves up off the floor to go through the line to shake the Spaulding girls hands, coach Dan Young said, “Was that the most intense volleyball match you’ve seen in a while? I was looking in the eyes of Saab, Becca, and Ciriello in the huddle as we got ready for game No. 3 and I knew it was going to be a long night because our girls were not backing down.”
Casey Peters and Melissa Paris were also shining for the Blue Devils on the backline, but in the third and fourth games, that the Blue Devils would win 25-20 and 25-23, junior Erica Tilton came up huge with two serving runs that helped propel Salem by the Red Raiders in those two games and Ciriello was blocking everything in sight, Saab was busy swatting away 19 kills, Weiss was coming up with a dozen kills, and Salem’s sophomore setter Sarah Scott never stopped diving for balls and coming up with a phenomenal 47 assists on the evening. Junior Courtney Wright, looked like she was back in mid season form with seven kills, and junior Nicole Boucher had five big blocks at the net. In the fifth and deciding game that the noise level was off the charts in this gym, the two teams were knotted up at 3-3 and 5-5, before Spaulding took a slight 9-7 lead. A couple of well-placed kills gave Spaulding a 12-7 lead, and coach Young called a time out. The Blue Devils came back with clutch kills by Saab, Ciriello, and Weiss to cut it to 14-10, but the Red Raiders Shanda Forcier had a well-placed kill along the near baseline that Saab went diving for, completely stretched out, but could not come up with to end the season for Salem. Following the match Coach Young said, “Two state titles and two trips to the semi-finals in four years…that’s not too bad, and girls like Saab, Weiss, Ciriello, Casey Paters and Melissa Paris, they are the ones who led us there. They were great senior leaders and all the younger girls looked up to them and they all fell into the game plan. With everybody that we have coming back next August, I think we might have another real competitive team again.”
Anthony Tudisco Salem 51 is blocked by the Central linemen as the runner appoaches
I could tell by talking with Salem assistant coach Danny Keleher and watching the Blue Devils coming onto the field at Gill Stadium last Friday night, that the Salem kids were going to give the 8-1 Manchester Central Little Green quite a contest. Coach Jack Gati’s young Blue Devils team did indeed give the No. 1 Little Green a battle and could have won this game if not for a few costly fumbles that enabled Manchester Central to hang on for a 16-6 victory. Salem coach Jack Gati said, “Fumbles and mistakes have really cost us this year, and tonight was just another case of it. It’s too bad because our kids played very hard and they did a nice job of containing Mike Cavanaugh, but those fumbles and not being able to punch it in from Central’s two-yard line really hurt.” Manchester Central improved its Division 1 record to 9-1 with a hard fought 16-6 over the Salem kids, but it sure wasn’t easy. Salem committed a big fumble early in the first quarter and Manchester Central started driving down the field. At Salem’s 17-yard line, Central quarterback Pat Tatro tried to hit his prize wide receiver Brett Parenteau at the goal line, but it appeared to be picked off by Salem sophomore defender, Max Jacques. Jacques did have the ball in mid air, but Parenteau somehow took the ball out of Jacques hands in mid air and tumbled to the ground at the two-yard line. Mike Cavanaugh scored on the next play and Central had a 7-0 lead with 2:03 left in the first quarter. In the second period, Salem’s defense came up with a big stop on their own seven yard line to give the ball back to the offense and sophomore quarterback Matt Cannone was able to air it out as he connected on a 68-yard pass play to senior Cory Lavallee. Chris Najem would lug it into the end zone with 3:32 left in the first half, but the extra point was blocked, giving Central a slight 7-6 lead. The Little Green patted their lead with one second left in that opening half as Cole Warren booted a 42-yard field to give them a 10-6 cushion.
Max Jacques would rush for 110 yards on 18 carries on the evening and Chris Najem added 60 yards on 10 carries as they put a couple of nice runs together in the third period and were helped by a couple of Central penalties. The Blue Devils marched the ball down to the Little Green’s 3-yard line, but three runs up the middle and an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the ball back to Central. Brett Parenteau was a big piece of the Central offense for the night as he hauled in seven passes for 118 yards and his teammate Mike Cavanaugh ran for 93 yards on 23 carries, however, it was Central’s Daveon Watley who scored for the Little Green on a five yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give them a 16-6 lead over the Blue Devils. The Blue Devils put together another long drive on offense that was aided by a pair of Central penalties, and they had a first and goal at the Little Green’s five-yard line, but another fumble on first down killed any Salem hopes of a comeback. Salem finished the season with a 4-6 record, which is their first losing season since the 2003 semester. Max Jacques finished up with 110 yards in 18 carries, and Chris Najem added 58 yards on nine carries. Matt Cannone completed a 68 yard pass to Cory Lavallee and then hooked up with Tommy Tarallo twice for 30 yards.
The Salem Blue Devil’s girls soccer team had one minor breakdown in the last minute and a half of the first half last Wednesday night in the Class L semi-finals which is all Merrimack needed to advance to the Class L finals. They took a 1-0 win over a determined Salem team that was making only it’s second trip to the semi-finals. Merrimack possessed Kailey Blain, a super junior whom many people think will be named the Class L player of the year. She’s the one who’d make a steal then breakaway and release a sonic shot that beat Salem goalie Sarah Snyder by landing in the upper far corner of the net. Salem coach Kendrick Whittle said, “Blain is a tremendous player who’s been killing everyone this year, but we did a super job on her except for that one time. Unfortunately, doing that one time in soccer can beat you 1-0. I can’t say enough about the way our defense marked Kailey Blain, of Merrimack and Roberge from Memorial had 19 of her teams’ 26 goals this year and she didn’t get off a shot against us in the 2-0 quarter-final win. These girls just banded together and did whatever it took to move on to the next round. Merrimack out-shot us 20-6 and they are a terrific passing team, but our goalie Sarah Snyder was tremendous between the pipes, and Caitlin Peters, Hannah LaRochelle Avery Neusch, Christine Gossen, Sarah Viehl and McKenzie Miller were just sensational down the stretch. We did have a couple of scoring opportunities, but not as many as we would have liked. I certainly can’t complain about a group of girls that put up two playoff shutouts and then went another 80 minutes in the semi-final with giving up only one goal. That’s what we always try to do, and that’s to keep the score within reach and then pounce on them when we get a shot, but it just didn’t happen against Merrimack that night.”
Salem’s junior goalie Sarah Snyder stopped 10 Tomahawk bombs in this game, and the Blue Devils only had two shots on the Merrimack goalie that had to be saved. The Blue Devils finished the season with a 14-3-2 record, which is eight wins better than last seasons 6-10-1 record that lost in the opening round of the Class L playoffs.
The voting came out for Boys Volleyball All-State team, and only junior middle hitter Jason Kinney was selected to the first team, with junior outside hitter Dan Tiner being selected to the second team. But these Salem athletes are more concerned about the five state championship banners that are hanging from the rafters in Davis Gymnasium at Salem High School. E. J. Perry, the only boys volleyball coach the Blue Devils have ever had since 2004 when the NHIAA recognized the sport, was once again selected as the “Boys Volleyball Coach of the Year” last week. He’s already looking ahead for six titles in a row, with a possible winning streak running to 112 matches in a row. That is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as this Blue Devil team will lose five seniors from next years’ team and only two of them were starters.
Sean Stewart did a great job at the setter position for the Blue Devils from start to finish and middle hitter Meme Okeke just got better and tougher as the season went on. Perry said, “Stewart and Okeke were super for us and especially down the stretch, we’re certainly going to miss them next year.” The Blue Devils had three other seniors that came in off the bench and did whatever the team needed to win. Co-captain Timmy Sullivan was a defensive specialist, as was Mike Sapochetti and Jessie Forrest. All three saw plenty of court time during the regular season and in the first playoff win against Oyster River. Coach Perry said, “Timmy Sullivan was one of our leaders and Sapochetti and Jessie always came off the bench and came into the game and did the job, nothing super special, just did what it took for the team to win, and that’s a big reason why Salem volleyball has won 93 matches in a row over the last five years.“
At the beginning of the season back in late August, coach Perry said this team was very different from teams before them. Other teams had the big hitters like Dan Kinney the 2007 Volleyball Player of the Year, but this years’ squad had four or five different heroes every night. Junior hitters Jason Kinney and Dan Tiner were the main players on opponents’ minds every night, but sophomore Joe Gallant and junior Jared Scali came through on a regular basis, along with Meme Okeke. Perry said, “Teams had a tough time concentrating on five different guys along the net, and these kids just kept getting better.” Salem also had a couple of secret weapons in junior libero C. J. DeMarco and junior Chris Barnes who did everything but sell tickets at the door. Barnes was always good for 30-35 assists each night and Demarco was digging along the back line and always being consistent. Salem had several other players who mixed in quite well with the team as junior outside hitters Pat Sheehy, Kyle Ruffin, Pat Les, and sophomore Corey Forrest combined to make this club the most talented from top to bottom. Defensive specialists Justin O’Brien, Kevin Delfosse, and two more returning players are going to make this team mighty tough to beat next season.
Zenon Konopka’s goal with 1:19 left in regulation gave the Norfolk Admirals a 4-3 decision over the Lowell Devils on Tuesday night at the Tsongas Arena. The loss extended Lowell’s winless streak to six games (0-5-1-0), while Norfolk made it three wins in a row.
Down 3-2 in the third period, the Devils battled back to knot the game when Vladimir Zharkov spun off a defender in front and whacked a loose puck under the leg of goalie Karri Ramo at 8:17.
Though the Admirals would not be able to convert on a late power play, they would notch the go-ahead goal just as the Devils got back to full-strength. From behind the net, Steve Downie found a passing lane to the top of the crease, where Konopka banged the puck through the five-hole of goaltender Dave Caruso.
After a scoreless first frame, the Devils were able to grab a 1-0 lead on the man-advantage when Chad Wiseman flicked a wrist shot from the point that deflected past Ramo at 4:07 into the second period. Norfolk answered immediately with a power play goal of its own just 58 seconds after Wiseman’s marker. Stationed at the blueline, defenseman Jamie Heward threw a shot past a screened Caruso to tie the score, 1-1.
Lowell in turn needed only 36 ticks of the clock to regain their edge. Zharkov’s pressure in the Admirals’ zone led to a turnover in the corner for Michael Swift, who sent a pass to the slot that John DiSalvatore chipped inside the far post.
Another flurry of goals later in the second period would give the Admirals their first lead of the game. Heward’s second power play goal of the night evened it up at 10:56 and Paul Szczechura’s wrister from the far circle 16 seconds later made the score 3-2.
Lowell hosts the Albany River Rats on Saturday, November 15 at 7 p.m. Listen to all of the action live on ahllive.com as Ryan Johnston brings you all of the play-by-play. Individual tickets are on sale now for the 2008-2009 season. Contact the Devils at (978) 458-PUCK (7825) for more information or log on to www.lowelldevilshockey.com.