One senior captain, outside hitter Allie Jones, left the match with an ankle injury. The other, setter Colleen Healey, was hobbling on her ankle too against Hockomock League rival North Attleborough in late September. The Canton High girls’ volleyball team left the court that day with their first loss of the season, 3-2, after a 5-0 start.
And feeling sorry for themselves.
The next day, however, coach Patricia Cawley provided a little perspective for her squad, sharing a story about former Lexington High standout Molly Eisenberg and her battle against ovarian cancer. Every player read the article at practice.
“We were all bummed out about the loss, and Allie, we were down on ourselves and sort of thinking selfishly,’’ said senior hitter Christen Ivanoski. But then she and her teammates heard about Eisenberg and her family. “It was sort of like we lost Allie to an ankle, and they’re losing one of their sisters to cancer. It put things into perspective for us, and we got our priorities in order.’’
Junior Anna Amico agreed, saying they all understood that the same situation could happen to any one of the players.
They realized “we don’t really have anything to be that upset about,’’ said Amico, who plays the libero position, as a defensive specialist. “There’s no reason to cry anymore, just do something for her.’’
Following the example of the Lexington High squad, the Bulldogs rallied together and created their own “Volley for Molly’’ night, selling baked goods during their match against Franklin High. Franklin’s volleyball booster club joined in with a generous donation, Cawley said, and helped the Bulldogs raise $1,100 for the campaign to increase awareness about ovarian cancer.
“They really clung to’’ the story, said Cawley. “I saw a kind of change in focus and change of attitude . . . The volleyball world is so small, and we didn’t know Molly, and didn’t know anything about Lexington High - we never play there. But we wanted to reach out to her, volleyball player to volleyball player.’’
The 19-year-old Eisenberg lost her battle on Oct. 21 at a hospice in Alamo, Calif., a few miles from her family’s new home in Walnut Creek.
The Bulldogs rallied on the court, ripping off 12 straight wins - including a rematch against North Attleborough - before losing the regular-season finale against powerhouse Melrose High.
Winning the rematch against North Attleborough “was the best feeling,’’ said senior libero Emily McGonagle. “When we stepped on the court, we all felt it. We connected in a way that was the best all season.’’
Canton (17-2 overall, 15-1 Hockomock) secured their third straight league title, and six overall since the program’s first season in 2001. The Bulldogs earned the second seed in the Division 2 Central sectional, earning a first-round bye, and will host a quarterfinal match against the Medway-Hudson winner tomorrow night.
A year ago, the Bulldogs finished 19-3, falling to Medway in the sectional semifinals. The 5-foot-10 Jones is the lone returning starter from last fall.
“We were a much more potent offensive team’’ last year, Cawley said, “an offense and blocking team. That was our game last year. I don’t think our defense was as good last year as it is this year. We’re scrappier.’’
Jones agreed that last year’s team had different strengths, but likes the defensive prowess of this edition.
“I mean, we were great last year, but we’re even better this year,’’ she said. “And really, I didn’t have to do anything. All the underclassmen and seniors stepped up and got the job done. We’ve played great together. It really wasn’t that big of a transition.’’
Every player is unanimous in the reason for the smooth transition from one year to the next: overall team chemistry. According to the Bulldogs, everyone else in school refers to them as “the Cult’’ because they spend so much time hanging out together.
“Volleyball is the ultimate team sport,’’ Ivanoski said. “You can’t do anything without the five other people on the court. It doesn’t matter if we have the best hitter in the country. If you don’t have someone to set and pass the ball, we’re nothing.’’
Healey added, “We can trust each other on the court more.’’
Freshman Mellyn Costello said her transition into high school was easy, since she had 28 friends on the first day to help her find classes and adjust to homework.
“Being on the team helps so much in high school,’’ she said. “I feel like I can tell them anything. I feel like I can tell them more than I tell my friends that I’ve known forever.’’
Now they tap off the second season, the tournament, a road that will be challenging at every turn.
“It’s going to be tough, nothing is going to be easy,’’ said Cawley, who expects top seed Medfield High (20-0), Marlborough, and Westborough to be their big obstacles. “We’re going to have to play our very best to beat some of these very good teams.’’
Lizzy Snell can be reached at esnell@ globe.com.