Newton North stages a comeback for the ages

NEWTON – Frustrated. Embarrassed. Out-of-sync. Desperate. Nervous.

And yet, heroically victorious.

In an all-time comeback nobody in a packed Newton South gym is likely soon to forget, the No. 2 Newton North boys volleyball team was down to its final point in the third set after losing its ugliest first two sets of the year, only to rally for a reverse sweep (16-25, 14-25, 26-24, 25-23, 15-12) over No. 3 Natick in a Div. 1 state semifinal Monday night.

Adam Christianson (18 kills, 19 assists, two blocks) and Simon Vardeh (15 kills, two blocks) were at the heart of the comeback, which meant overcoming a 24-21 deficit in the third set before a true rock fight in the next two sets. Middles Sam Huang (four kills, block) and Peter Reale’s (six kills, four blocks) emergence after the third set also seemed to bring the team back to life after an uncharacteristic start.

The Tigers will now meet No. 1 Needham, who they’ve already beaten twice this year, in the Div. 1 state final Thursday night at Worcester State.

“I can’t speak on it, this was a team I’ve never seen before … this was just unheard of,” said Newton North head coach Nile Fox. “I think when the reality (hit) that our season was about to be over in an embarrassing way … I think that’s what turned us up and snapped us back in.”

“This is the first time this season I’ve felt like, besides maybe the first Needham game, we’ve really had to claw to fight, like really fight, for a win,” Christianson added. “It’s a new feeling, I’m not really sure how to describe it. … I’m excited. Nervous, excited. All the feelings, really.“

It seemed nothing was going right for Newton North in the first two sets. Natick’s depth was dominant around setter Harrison Landry (40 assists, seven kills, three blocks) and Branch Barnes (20 kills, five assists, three blocks), while the Tigers were plagued with errors in blowout losses of 25-16 and 25-14 for a 2-0 match deficit.

Matt Salerno (11 kills) and Nic Bonavire (12 kills, two blocks) also excelled for the RedHawks.

Barnes continued to stand out in the third set, burying seven kills to build a 21-18 lead. Newton North errors extended its deficit to 24-21 before the magic sank in.

A Natick hitting error gave Christianson the serve, and that started a 5-0 run to extend the Tigers season and suddenly give them their mojo back.

Vardeh earned the last two points with kills for a 26-24 win.

“It was like a switch flipped,” Christianson said. “As soon we fought in that third set, it was like a completely different team. … I had to trust my teammates and we got it done.”

With new life, Huang, Vardeh, Reale and Christianson combined for eight kills and six blocks to build a 21-11 lead in the fourth set. Paul Nelson added a kill and ace.

The RedHawks rallied back, scoring 12 of the next 15 points behind three blocks, two assists, a kill and an ace from Landry to pull within 24-23.

Again, Newton North saved its season when Christianson connected with Vardeh for the 25-23 win.

“I just think they love (the sport) and they love playing together,” Fox said. “They all really like each other and they like to go to war together. … Every year we want to play the last game of the season and that’s the state championship, so we were just trying to do anything we could do to save our chance to go there again.”

Christianson buries two kills in a 3-0 start to the fifth, only for Barnes to score two kills for a 4-0 response. Reale and Vardeh finished feeds from Joaquin Cuevas-Torres (33 assists) to build a 6-4 Newton North lead, and side-out volleyball followed until a violation tied the score up at 10-10 for Natick.

Vardeh’s kill gave Newton North a 12-11 lead, and Christianson slammed down two more in a 3-0 run to secure the win.

“I think that third set was a miracle … (but the comeback) was just the hard work,” Fox said. “I think they really did not want to lose and this to be the seniors’ last game. They brought it.”

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