Melissa Morelli likes to take matters into her own hands.
On the volleyball court, that happens in a literal sense.
On Wednesday night, the Lynnfield senior setter/rightside hitter received a pass to get the second touch on the Pioneers’ side of the net. Masconomet held a 23-22 lead and Lynnfield was in danger of losing its first set this season after winning its first 43.
Morelli could have set the ball to one of her hitters. With her back turned to the net and Masconomet’s front row, it appeared as if she was going to perform a back set to the outside. Instead, she saw an open spot on the floor and maneuvered the ball there for the set-tying kill.
Lynnfield, ranked 13th in this week’s Globe poll, prevailed, 26-24, the match 3-0, and is now 15-0 after winning its 45th consecutive set to start the season.
“When I was in the front row, we didn’t have an outside hitter in the front at that time,” Morelli said. “So when I was in the front row, the outside hitter was cheating off to play defense and I just saw that spot open and I just did it.”
Morelli’s take-charge attitude and calm demeanor has helped Lynnfield win two sectional titles in her four-year varsity career.
The Pioneers have a 74-11 record in her three-plus varsity seasons and she has become one of the program’s most decorated players. Morelli was named to the Massachusetts Girls Volleyball Coaches Association’s Division 2 All-State team last season. She reached 1,000 career assists on Oct. 2 against Triton and now has 1,071 to go along with 587 kills and 207 aces.
The only accolade missing in her illustrious career? A state championship. But the Pioneers have come close.
In 2016, Lynnfield’s last season in Division 3, the Pioneers captured the North title before losing to eventual state champion Case in the state semis. Two years ago, Lynnfield moved up to Division 2 and battled with fellow D2 North power Danvers in the quarterfinals, and lost 3-1. Last season, the Pioneers led Groton-Dunstable in the fifth set of the D2 semifinals before losing, 3-2.
The Pioneers have not lost a set since that match, on Nov. 13, 2018.
“After the Groton-Dunstable match, there was a little extra fire in them,” Lynnfield coach Brent Ashley said. “They started practicing as a team starting in June, coming into the gym when it was 90-something degrees in here and they just put in reps,” Ashley said. “They just wanted to work, and you can kind of tell that they just stick together.”
Morelli’s versatility has been invaluable to the Pioneers. And for the past four seasons, she has been a headache for opposing defense.
Before Morelli’s arrival, Emma Mancini was a powerful outside hitter at Lynnfield. She went on to play at Endicott and was the Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year before graduating last spring.
While Mancini dominated with her strength, Morelli uses finesse and on-court awareness.
“She passes incredibly well. She’s always been one of our best passers,” Ashley said. “She likes to control everything that’s in our back row, and essentially, when we run our 6-2, the setter is always going to come out of the back row and set the ball.
“We kind of built that [setter/hitter] position around Melissa because we knew how good her hands were,” Ashley said. “She’s very clean with the ball.”
Next year, Morelli will attend Hamilton College, a Division 3 program in upstate New York with her twin sister, Victoria, the captain of the Lynnfield girls’ soccer team.
On the court, Morelli partners with senior setter Sophia Wilkinson to run the attack, who had collected 451 kills entering Wednesday’s match. Morelli was responsible for assists on 221 of those kills.
Lynnfield still has five regular-season matches and potentially six more in the tournament if it reaches the state final. The last team in Massachusetts to go 26-0 and not lose an entire set all season was Frontier Regional’s 2010 squad, which was good enough to beat Barnstable during the regular season on its way to a Division 3 state title. On Wednesday against Masco, when the Chieftains held a 24-23 lead, it was only the third time an opponent has had set point on Lynnfield his season.
“We definitely use it as motivation,” Morelli said of the team’s streaks. “We definitely don’t want to get cocky about it or anything. Of course we want to use it as motivation to be like ‘this is what we’re working towards right now.’ We’ve been playing well, but this is another thing that we can protect.”
■ In addition to featuring the top two teams in the Cape Ann League, Wednesday night’s match between Lynnfield and Masconomet was also a Dig Pink night to benefit the Side-Out Foundation, which unifies girls’ volleyball teams across the country to raise money for breast cancer research and treatment. The match also featured a special guest — Lynnfield resident Todd Angilly, entering his second season singing the national anthem at Bruins’ games. The mother of Grace Davie, a freshman on Lynnfield’s JV team, reached out to Angilly on Twitter, and he agreed to sing.
■ Sticking in the CAL, Newburyport qualified for the postseason for the first time in program history last Friday with a 3-0 win over Pentucket. The Clippers are 11-5 with four matches left.
The number of undefeated teams in the Globe Top 20 has shrunk to eight following Lincoln-Sudbury’s two consecutive losses to Boston Latin last Thursday and Acton-Boxborough on Tuesday. L-S (12-2) still leads the DCL Large by half a game over A-B.
Matches to watch
Friday, Central Catholic at North Andover, 5 p.m. — Central Catholic can clinch a tournament berth with a win. North Andover won 3-1 in the teams’ first meeting on Sept. 25.
Friday, Holliston at Bellingham, 5 p.m. — Both teams are .500 in search of that tournament-clinching win. Both Holliston (7-7) and Bellingham (8-8) are two wins shy of qualifying.
Friday, Whitman-Hanson at Rockland, 5 p.m., 5 p.m. — At 15-0, Rockland is the only undefeated team in EMass not in the rankings because of strength of schedule. The last time they played a Patriot League team, Hingham took the Bulldogs to five sets on Sept. 30.
Friday, No. 13 Lynnfield at Arlington Catholic, 5 p.m. — Lynnfield puts its undefeated record to the test against a team it could face in the Division 2 North tournament.
Thursday, Weymouth at Milton 4 p.m. — Both Bay State Herget teams are battling for postseason berths. Weymouth (6-5) has matches against Needham (12-0), Dedham (3-12), and Newton North (9-0) before taking on the Wildcats. Milton (7-7) has previous matches against Fontbonne (6-7) and Brookline (4-6). Each need two more wins to clinch a tournament spot.
Brandon Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.