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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
On Friday night, The Westwood Wolverines volleyball team beat the Wellesley Raiders three sets to one, in a game that sharpened some tools for the Wolverines before the postseason tournament, and provided a much-needed wake-up call for a Wellesley team that was on a roll following a strategy change.
In the first set, Wellesley kept it close until some struggles returning serve left them in a 15-10 hole. From there, the Wolverines ultimately took the set, 25-17.
Wellesley responded well in the second set, going point for point with Westwood until a small run and an unreturnable serve from Naz Ozkaya gave the Raiders a 17—13 lead. At 20-17, Sadie Cohen had a pretty play when she slapped the ball away from the blockers to a corner free of any Westwood player. Despite briefly losing a player to injury at 23-20, Wellesley took the set, 25-21.
With Wellesley evening the score and riding a wave of momentum, you would have expected the Raiders to take an early lead, Instead, Wellesley fell apart and found themselves down 12-3 very quickly. Wellesley fought back, but could never really cut into the Wolverine lead, ultimately losing the set, 25-14.
The fourth set would end up being the final one, as, despite being neck-and-neck at 17-17, Westwood pulled away by scoring eight of the final ten points and winning the set, 25-19.
What was the difference between the second and third sets? While Westwood Coach Jenny Murphy talked about the Wolverines doing some different things in the second set that didn’t work very well, Wellesley Coach Fabian Ardila noted that once they win a set, young players just assume they’re going to win again - which was likely the case for his team.
“Not working hard,” he said. “What it comes down to with most teams at this age is we won that set, we can do this, it’s just going to happen, and we don’t put in the hard work. The teams that understand that once they win, they need to work even harder to finish, are the ones that are most successful. So, we’ve just got to get that engrained.”
This idea, that the team didn’t work hard enough, was mentioned a couple of times by Coach Ardila, who believed the team’s success with a new system may have fooled them into thinking the system would win the match for them.
“We didn’t work hard enough. We were coming off two very successful wins where this new system we implemented about a week and a half ago - moving Sadie Cohen to the left side, and putting a couple of our left side players onto the right - worked really well, and I think that they’re playing in a much better, more cohesive manner. But unfortunately, Westwood’s defense was pretty scrappy and they did a good job just putting it back over onto our side. We just couldn’t put the ball away.”
But while hearing a coach say his team didn’t work hard enough may make many ex-athletes’ legs shake and stomachs churn with memories of suicide sprints, bear crawls, Indian drills, and other classic athletic punishments, Coach Ardila wasn’t going to resort to those methods.
“We don’t do any punishments at all,” he said. “we don’t work that way. We’re all about the growth mindset; what did you learn from this, what can you do to improve. We’ll go back and really engrain in their heads the things they need to be doing in a better manner, but punishments, nobody ever gets better from punishments.”
For Westwood’s Murphy, while the team had already qualified for the postseason tournament, they weren’t playing especially well. This win acted to get them back on track.
“We kind of had hit a little midseason slump on the team, and I think this was a game that brought us back together,” said Murphy. “We jelled nicely, and I was very happy with it.”
With a team win like this, she had many players she wanted to recognize for their exemplary performances.
“Kaitlyn Dumais, our setter and junior captain, got player of the game tonight. She had some really smart plays that dug us out of some holes and got us out of some trouble, and her serve was really good, too. Also, Katerina Vertikova, who’s also a captain, just this week, she’s been moved to the right side and she’s really adjusted to that well. And Hermela Haile had some really nice serves. We’re excited to finish [the season] out. We made the tournament last week, so we’re just looking ahead to the postseason now.”