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After years of struggling, Methuen (18-2) now one of state’s best teams


Methuen’s Drew Eason shoots the ball during a match with Revere. After years of struggle, Methuen (18-2) has become one of the top boys volleyball teams in the state. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

In 2022, despite a 1-11 record in 2021 and only three seasons above .500 since 2006, Methuen boys volleyball head coach Matt Toomey envisions the program winning the Merrimack Valley Conference within the next two years as he seeks a State title.

Just a few days after the roster was finalized, he called the team’s sophomores into his office. Led by a budding football star in Drew Eason and a longtime baseball player trying out a new sport in James Levesque, Twomey told the group that although their hard work wouldn’t translate into wins right away, he promised them they would be MVC and state champions. Senior title contender.

They went on to finish the year much improved at 8-13 with a first round exit of the state tournament. The following season, they won their most regular-season games since 2006 (12). Now, the Rangers finish the regular season 18-2, capturing their first MVC title since 1998 in the program’s winningest season ever.

This meeting with Eason, Levesque, senior libero Matt Kovacev, and senior Arthur Cassarano, set the stage for a major turnaround.

“(Toomey) said senior year should be amazing…he saw a lot of potential in us,” Eason said. “For us, we were kind of on the competitive side, and we really wanted to take (the program) to the next level and win games. … (Twoomey) pushes us to be the best we can be, and he’s been a big part of our success.”

“I remember it clearly,” Levesque added. “He was like, ‘Your senior year, we’re going to go for it all, state championship, MVC championship, everything.’ Seeing (us) going after that is really amazing.

The team used to be a group of high-level athletes playing volleyball, but now it’s a team of high-level volleyball players who have become high-level athletes, Levesque says.

Finding elite athletes to walk through the doors of a gym has never been a big problem. Getting them to play before their senior year so they can develop the skills to become great, not just good, was the main hurdle that limited the program.

That’s why resetting things two years ago by building with a young core was so important for Tommy.

“We’ve gotten to the point where every year we lose 10 senior players, we lose nine senior players, we lose 12 senior players in one year and come back with just two players,” he said. “I was like, ‘We can’t survive like this.’ … We wanted to start with a group of senior players on the team instead of just a group of senior players, we would have a mix of returning players.

It didn’t take long for Levesque to love the sport since he tried it his sophomore year. He has developed into one of the state’s leading outside hitters and is committed to playing Div. 3 Volleyball at Rivière University. Eason, an athletic force and a talented hitter, could also play collegiate volleyball if he is not committed to Stonehill Football.

Junior Sean LaDuke has thrived in his first year starting at setter. Lucas Giard, Jack Flynn and Andrew Cox are solid and athletic options at complementary batsmen around Eason and Levesque, while Kovachev anchors the defense as a second-year starter.

“We all bring different dynamics to our other sports, but we don’t talk about it or anything like that,” Levesque said. “During the spring, we’re all volleyball players and just volleyball players.”

“Honestly, I think this is the hardest-working team I’ve ever been a part of,” Eason added. “Everyone is so excited, so motivated, and no one has missed a single day of training.”

It turned in sixth place in the final group of the MIAA Div. The No. 1 power rankings are released ahead of Tuesday’s brackets and a special season to remember.

Twomey played for Methuen his senior year in 1996 and used that experience to start four years in college. He has never won an MVC title and the coaching staff’s desire to win it has rubbed off on the players.

Two-time defending champion Lowell on May 17 clinched a share of the title. A win over Lawrence the following Monday ensures just that.

“The real pride for us is that we’ve carried our blocks for so long that it’s really nice to have our names mentioned with some of the teams that are some of the best in the state right now,” Twomey said. “There’s a lot of pride in bringing your name up in conversation.”

“I felt like it wasn’t easy for us at all, and we really had to work for it,” Eason added. “All the other schools get a lot of respect and get talked about all the time. Even when we were winning, we felt like we weren’t appreciated. … We wanted to prove everyone wrong and this proves we can get it done.”

“It’s something I’ll be able to tell my kids and grandkids one day,” Levesque added. “Just being able to think about that, we did that when we got left out at the beginning of the season by a group of people.

However, the first practice after beating Lawrence was one of Methuen’s toughest this year. Twomey is willing to bet that no other team runs as aggressively as the Rangers, and players run at every unforced error they make in the previous game.

“Things don’t come easy, things get more difficult as time goes on,” Eason said. Tommy didn’t want us to be satisfied because he knew there was more on the plate, and there was still more to get. He really wants us to stay disciplined and keep moving forward so we can get to the state tournament like we all want to.

Aspects

The regular season concluded on Friday. Brackets will be released Tuesday at 11 a.m…. With its win over Natick on the final day of the regular season, Needham is undefeated over the past four years by any team outside of Newton North. … New Bedford finished the regular season 20-0, securing the only undefeated schedule in the state.

Methuen's James Levesque, right, reacts to a point during a game against Revere.  (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)
Methuen’s James Levesque, right, reacts to a point during a game against Revere. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)



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