Sixth-seeded Natick won its third straight Central Sectional title in four sets (25-21, 23-25, 25-23 and 25-21) against a familiar foe in No. 13 Lincoln-Sudbury, whom the Redhawks faced in the same game a year prior.
SHREWSBURY — The Natick boys volleyball team lost eight seniors from last year's sectional title team.
This year, with just one returning starter, the sixth-seeded Redhawks won their third straight Central Sectional title in four sets (25-21, 23-25, 25-23 and 25-21) against a familiar foe in No. 13 Lincoln-Sudbury, a team Natick faced in the same game a year prior.
"We played them last year in the finals and we know that they are a good program," said senior Brett Olen, who had a game-high 43 assists on the night. "They always peak at the right time, just like us so we knew that it was going to be a fight and I just told our guys that we have to fight until the very end."
That fight until the very end was evident in the second set when the Redhawks (16-4) faced set-point. Natick junior setter and opposite hitter Will Landry chased a ball into the stands and kept it in play as the Redhawks won the point and cut the deficit to 24-22. Natick would get one more point to make it a one-point game, but the Warriors (13-10) were able to win the set to knot the match up at one-all.
VIDEO: Natick junior Will Landry dives into stands to keep play alive.
"We knew that they were going to challenge us and we dropped the second set there," Olen said.
Overall it was a back and forth match that saw neither team hold a lead of greater than five points in any set.
"The game could have gone either way," Lincoln-Sudbury coach Liz McClung said. "There were a couple of times where we missed a couple of breaks and had some unforced errors, but otherwise it was a good game, the two teams were well matched. Natick had some good defensive plays that kept them in it – as did we.
"I think it was exciting to watch, the level of play was excellent and exciting for the fans I'm sure."
The Warriors' run to a second straight sectional title appearance was quite improbable in its own right. Squeaking into the postseason with a 10-9 record already had Lincoln-Sudbury battle tested before their first playoff game against fourth-seeded Algonquin.
"We had to fight really hard just to make it to the tournament with a 50% win record," McClung said. "We had to battle some tough teams just to get to that point and we had a really good run in (the) tournament."
Despite all of the losses in senior leadership from last season, Natick coach Peter Suxho still had faith that his team had the potential to win a sectional title for the third year in a row.
"We faced them (Lincoln-Sudbury) last year in the final and beat them 3-0," Suxho said. "So they know that they are strong."
Suxho couldn't help but rain praise on his senior captain and setter.
"He has to be player of the year," Suxho said of Olen. "He's the best. Without him, maybe we don't make tournament. He deserves to be player of the year, he's huge."
Olen however experienced a brief scare in the first set when he slipped on the floor.
"I was going to cover and I slipped on sweat and I pulled something in my hip," Olen said. "It's good now, I thought it was a lot worse at the time but it feels good now."
After the Redhawks called timeout, Olen was able to return to the game without missing any action.
The Warriors came into the sectional final without dropping a set in the entire tournament. That was the case until the first set when Natick closed out the opening frame on a 4-1 run to win 25-21.
After dropping the second set, 23-25, the Redhawks bounced back with a 25-23 victory of their own before closing out the match in the fourth set 25-21, clinching Natick's third straight sectional title.
VIDEO: Natick wins third straight Central sectional title.
"Its huge," Suxho said of his team's accomplishment.
"We've had the same team for the last two years, but all new guys this year," Olen said. "Great team win, we spread it out, great team passing, we just played a great game."
Ethan Winter is a senior multimedia sports journalist at the MetroWest Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3987 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EWints.