There were whispers circulating in the crowd prior to the girls’ volleyball match Tuesday evening at Canton High.
“This could be her 100th win.”
And when the unbeaten Bulldogs netted the clinching point in the third set, securing a 25-22, 25-17, 27-25 victory over Medway in their regular-season finale, their coach, Pat Cawley, was the one taken completely by surprise.
The sixth-year coach was unaware that she had reached the milestone; when her players ran to her shouting “congratulations,” tears streamed down Cawley’s smiling face.
“I had absolutely no idea,” said Cawley. “I don’t keep track of that stuff at all.”
The junior varsity team’s coach, Lynne Travers , along with Cawley’s daughter, Michelle, and another former player, Amanda Hines , had realized she was approaching the century mark, however.
Michelle Cawley and Hines, who have been assisting the squad all season, informed the players prior to the match, but told the Bulldogs to keep it a secret.
“It was really big and she had no idea because she focuses on day-to-day, how we play and not herself,” said senior libero Mellyn Costello.
Canton (19-0), the top seed in the Division 2 Central sectional tournament, will host a quarterfinal match Monday, facing the winner of Saturday’s game between Foxborough and Hudson.
In addition to the Canton squad’s athleticism and skill on the court, chemistry has played an integral part in the Bulldogs’ success this season. The majority of the girls played for the Canton Cobra club team since a young age, and have spent years alongside one another on the court.
That bond came in handy in the third set Tuesday night against Medway, when the Bulldogs faced a 24-17 deficit.
“I was completely calm and I had 100 percent faith,” said senior setter Kaitlin Phillips. “There was never any doubt in my mind that we would win.”
Her faith was justified: Canton sophomore setter Erin Proctor recorded seven straight service points to tie the score, and the Bulldogs rallied for the 27-25 win.
After the game, the team went out to dinner and presented Cawley with a scrapbook full of letters of appreciation.
“I’ve known her basically most of my life,” said Costello. “She’s been there. She started me off in the sport of volleyball. She’s a great coach and a great person. She always gives really great advice, always gets us motivated and fixes our mistakes. She’s probably one of the best people I’ve met in my life.”
Costello started playing volleyball at age 9 with the Cobra club.
Cawley was her coach.
The respect is mutual.
Cawley calls Costello the anchor of her defense, while also heaping praise on the rest of her players.
“We have 15 hard-working girls,” said Cawley. “All of them contribute every night, whether they’re on the court or off.”
Cawley considers Julia Murphy , a 5-foot-11 senior, “one of the best, if not the best, player in the state. She’s a great all-around player. I have a lot of offensive weapons in Alex Walsh, Avery Devoe, Jackie Bornemann, Lindsey Arthur . I have a great setter. I have a great libero, and without any of them we couldn’t do it.”
Cawley, nee Brady, played at the Girls’ Latin School in Boston (now Boston Latin Academy) and at Boston College.
She helped Arunas Kuncaitis start the Canton program in 2001, and then took over as head coach when Kuncaitis stepped down after the 2006 season.
As a coach, and a mentor, she clearly has made an impact. The two run the Cobra club program, and Cawley’s daughter, Michelle, who played collegiately at University of Massachusetts Boston, is the coach of the club’s team of 15-year-olds.
“She’s a really good coach,” said Murphy, senior middle blocker. “She loves the sport, loves the team and puts her whole heart into everything. She pushes us to work hard all the time and is a huge part of our success.”
Murphy, who has committed to play at UMass Boston next year, says she will apply all she has learned at Canton when she moves on to college.
“I think the work ethic and teamwork that we learned from high school, and the fundamentals will help in collegiate volleyball, and it also taught me how to love the sport,” said Murphy.
As the girls prepare for the tournament, they don’t plan on changing their practice regimen.
“It’s a sport where you have to do fundamentals and perfect everything to minimize your errors, so we practice the same things over and over,” said Murphy.
Last season the Bulldogs reached the semifinals of the Division 2 Central tourney before falling to Hopkinton, 3-0, finishing 15-3 overall.
“We’re ready for whoever comes and we’re going to work our hardest to get all the way to the top,” said Costello.
For the team’s eight seniors, this is their final shot to capture a title.
As the season comes to an end for the close-knit team, the reality of saying goodbye is starting to sink in.
It’s bittersweet for those moving on, some to play at the collegiate level.
“It’s probably going to be one of the toughest things I’ll ever have to do,” said Costello. “This team has become my family since freshman year. I’ve become best friends with girls that I wouldn’t have been friends with because we wouldn’t get to know each other outside of volleyball.
“I’m definitely going to come back a lot and visit.”
Top 10 area teams
The area’s top girls’ volleyball teams entering the state tournament:
1. Canton (19-0)
2. Pembroke (18-2)
3. Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) (13-4)
4. Quincy (17-4)
5. North Quincy (15-4)
6. Walpole (14-4)
7. Plymouth South (11-6)
8. Weymouth (11-7)
9. Braintree (12-8)
10. Old Colony (13-3)