From the ESPN Boston High School area blog Blog by Matt Stout (link)
Tim Guernsey answered the question like he’s been asked it a million time before.
No, the RHAM volleyball coach doesn’t know how many consecutive games his team has won.
“Nope,” he said, chuckling. “I have no idea. It’s for writers.”
He does, however, remember the last time the Lady Sachems lost — to Farmington in the Northwest Conference final.
Nearly three years and three state championships separate then and now. Fifty-three straight wins do, too.
But the streak is hardly a concern for RHAM, one of the state’s most dominant programs in any sport despite starting just eight years ago with a coach who never played the sport and in a town — Hebron — that loves its soccer.
Inside the RHAM gymnasium, there are blue banners signifying league championships and gold ones reserved for state titles. As one would expect, the only number on the gold ones is for the year, not that number of losses.
“People are going to come into the gym and they’re going to notice 2010, they won a state title,” Guernsey said. “Not that they had 10 losses or no losses.”
Nevertheless, they’ve been hard to come by at RHAM. The Sachems lost just one game (yes, game!) last season en route to their third straight Class M title. They rode big hitters in All-State selections Kelsey Welling and Tessa Smolinski, also the Gatorade Player of the Year, and a group of seven seniors well-versed in winning.
They’re gone, but in a program that’s quickly built a legacy of success, little else has changed.
Gold’s the goal. Again.
“In 2005, I had eight seniors on a team that went 18-2 and lost in the (state) quarterfinals. Then, it was six seniors (who graduated), then it was one senior, then it was this group with seven,” Guernsey said. “It’s been an every-other-year cycle.”
This season, just two seniors remain in outside hitter Chloe Rishell and middle hitter Jocelyn Taylor, the latter of whom was part of RHAM’s eight-person rotation a year ago. Like clockwork, seven juniors stand behind them, including Tessa’s sister, Laura, a setter; Kelsey Kirkpatrick, another middle hitter; and Kara Trippel, a libero.
Since they were freshmen, they “have been waiting to get into the limelight,” Guernsey said — like every other class.
“We’ve all kind of experienced it,” Rishell said of winning a state title. “But we’ve all been on the sidelines. I think the thing that is going to drive us most is we want to say we were a part of it.”
Guernsey does point to one difference this year. For the first time since he started the program in 2002 — and went 0-18 — RHAM lacks that knock-dead outside hitter in its 5-1 formation, someone who can take the ball anywhere on the net and leave a smudge mark where the floor used to be.
That moves the emphasis to defense and quicker passing, meaning RHAM will try to turn volleyball, a game essentially of mistakes, into a flawless act.
Good thing the Sachems have this perfection thing down. Even if they don’t know exactly for how long.