Summer vacations and lazy afternoons on the beach can wait for the St. John’s volleyball team.
In fact, the Pioneers would love to have their 2021 spring season extend all the way to July 3 and the scheduled state championship final match.
And that’s not a pipe dream, considering the Pioneers have won six of their opening eight matches against some very tough competition.
“Even if the playoffs take us into July this year, I’m fine with that,” said senior captain Spencer Sweeney.
St. John’s opened with a 3-2 loss to St. John’s Prep on May 7, but then reeled off five straight wins over Algonquin, Catholic Memorial, BC High, Milford and Xaverian. A loss to Westfield last Thursday was quickly followed the next day by another victory over Catholic Memorial.
Because of the pandemic and last year’s cancelled season, the Pioneers, who went 17-7 in 2019, couldn’t defend their first-ever Catholic Conference volleyball title.
Missing their senior season a year ago and now in college are former St. John’s standouts from the Class of 2020: Ansh Patel, Liam Farrell and Christian Abboud.
After the long hiatus, back in the gym though this spring, the Pioneers are led by talented captains: the 6-foot-4 middle hitter Sweeney, opposite hitter Conor McCabe and junior libero Daniel Wickstrom.
“We’re hoping to win the Catholic Conference again,” said Sweeney, who had 14 kills in the win over Xaverian.
“Spencer was the only returning starter from the 2019 team, and he’s really stepped up in the leadership role this year,” said St. John’s coach Dan Seaver. “Conor was very excited for his junior year, but it didn’t happen. This year he’s been a huge force for us. And Dan, who is a tremendous athlete, has been fantastic and, in my opinion, one of the best liberos in the area.”
Of the 15 players on Seaver’s varsity roster, nine are seniors including starting setter Brian Chen, outside hitter Kevin Walsh, outside hitter Jason Spiegelman, middle Matthew Black, defensive specialist Owen Quartulli, middle Owen Semeter and outside hitter Clifford Bellefeuille.
Chen had 21 assists in the Xaverian match, 37 against BC High and 18 in the big win over Milford, a 3-1 victory also highlighted by McCabe’s 11 kills and Wickstrom’s 19 digs.
Leading the way with kills and digs in the most recent win over Catholic Memorial were Spiegelman and sophomore Matthew Deeley.
Other juniors on the team include Luca Gaspari, Myles Phillips and Harrison Ganong, while Nolan Farrell is the other sophomore.
“Although we didn’t have a high school season last year, we all played a lot of club volleyball in the off-season, so I feel we came in this spring really ready to go. We’ve kept up the energy with each match,” said Wickstrom, who lives in Whitinsville and leads the team in blocks, digs and successful serving percentage.
McCabe, a Grafton resident, who will enter Nichols College in the fall and hopes to play volleyball, said, “We did miss out on a growing season a year ago, and that was unfortunate. I think our skill sets would have grown dramatically, but club volleyball from last spring through the summer and last fall definitely helped us fill that gap.”
Sweeney, who lives in Gardner and has been accepted to Northeastern University where he will study engineering, is hoping to play club volleyball there.
“After last year’s lost season and the opening loss this year, we’re now rolling and getting back into the groove,” said Sweeney, who used his free time last spring in a very positive way, teaching himself three different computer programming languages: C++, Python and Java.
“It was easy really, just looking at some websites and videos online,” he explained. “The pandemic and being quarantined helped me learn things I never would have.”
“I love coaching here. We’ve got great kids,” said Seaver, who starred at Milford High and played four years of varsity volleyball at Endicott College. He is assisted in his coaching duties by three members of his 2019 championship team: Mark Samaha, Andrew Toth and Eric Backman.
The Pioneers will play 11 total regular-season matches this spring before the postseason tournament.
Contact Jay Gearan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tgsports.