By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer
It’s always gratifying to see a sports team that that works relentlessly and achieves success get rewarded.
When a team finishes a grueling season by winning a state championship, it’s great when public safety officials greet the bus and provide an escort, usually from the town line to their high school. Police and fire department notice is a wonderful way for a community to show instant support and appreciation.
Another way a team’s achievement is saluted is at a banquet where awards, trophies, plaques and jackets are presented. That, too, is an excellent method to acknowledge success.
The crowning event, however, usually comes years later — at a hall of fame ceremony.
A good example of delayed appreciation is Natick High’s 2007 boys volleyball team, which last year on Oct. 22, was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.
That squad, coached by the legendary Peter Suxho, practiced diligently and its intensity and desire to excel were phenomenal.
That 2007 team was one for the record books.
It set a school record when it won the Bay State Conference crown by going 14-0; it captured the sectional title; then rolled to the state championship. Defeating Newton North in three sets for the state crown gave the Natick boys volleyball program its first and only state title. Its 22-1 record is the best in the program’s history.
The team’s five tourney victories came against St. John’s (Shrewsbury), Milford, Lincoln Sudbury (the only team to beat Natick in the regular season), St. John’s Prep (Danvers) and Newton North. The matchups against St. John’s, St. John’s Prep and Newton North were all three-set triumphs.
“The 2007 team was motivated, it had energy and the players trusted my coaching style,’’ said Suxho, who coached the Albanian National Team before he arrived in the U.S. in 1996. “A desire to win and to play with energy and confidence were the key ingredients.’’
Suxho’s squad also had other positives. “They had high volleyball IQs, they were experienced and athletic, and they relied on excellent technique,’’ Suxho said. “Many of the 2007 players experienced the pain of losing in the state final a year earlier. They knew what was needed to get to the final. We also had depth, the players were solid students and their parents were great, always helping and supporting the team.’’
The 2007 team included two seniors, five juniors and six freshmen
The captains were Tim Lee, a senior setter who was voted the team’s MVP, and Shaun Sibley, a junior right-side hitter. The only other senior was Luke Tygert, a right-side hitter. The other juniors included Jeremy Siden (middle hitter), Matt Lanchantin (middle hitter), Elio Jaho (outside hitter), and James Hubbard (libero). The freshmen were Nick Martino (setter), Tyler Del Sesto (libero), Steve Brown (outside hitter), Patrick Sibley (setter), Ethan Mapel (outside hitter), and Rajeev Groghrade (middle hitter).
Last October, an appreciative crowd cheered the players and their coach at the Natick Senior Center when the team was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. “It was a great ceremony,’’ Suxho said. “It was a well-deserved honor for a team that had good chemistry and was close-knit. I was proud of the players and their achievement.’’
Suxho and volleyball are as natural as apple pie and ice cream. Before arriving to coach the Natick boys and girls teams in 2005, he guided Millis High to a pair of state championships in 2003. The Mohawks’ boys and girls teams became state champs that year.
During Suxho’s 19 years as the Redhawks’ boys coach, his teams have won six BSC titles, six sectional crowns and one state championship. Three times, in 2006, 2010 and 2019, Natick was the state runners-up.
“My first year as Natick’s coach, we got to the tourney, lost to Millis, and finished with a 12-6 record,’’ Suxho recalled. “My second year, we advanced to the state final against St. John’s Prep of Danvers. We lost the first two sets, tied the match by winning the next two and were leading, 13-9 in the fifth set. We couldn’t hold on and lost. Many of the boys on that 2006 team felt the pain, but came back the next year and won the states.’’
Suxho, who was hired at Natick by Tom Lamb, has a 217-66 career record in regular-season matches. His career record with tournaments included is 258-82.
Suxho’s son Donald is no stranger to volleyball, learning the game from his father’s tutelage in Albania and the U.S. He’s carved out a fabulous career as a two-time all-American setter at the University of Southern California and a two-time U.S. Olympian in 2004 and as the captain of the 2012 team. Because of an injury, he was unable to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“Donald is now the director of volleyball for girls at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.’’ Suxho said. “He’s involved in world-wide recruiting as he develops players in Grades 6-12 for club volleyball.’’
Peter Suxho seems to have the Midas touch as a volleyball coach. It’s not surprising that he came to Natick and turned out a state runner-up squad and a state championship team in his first three years at the helm.
Volleyball may not be a high profile sport in some circles but at Natick High interest and excitement surround the program. Expectations are always high.
Natick High’s 2007 team is proof that a strong work ethic coupled with energy and desire can take a team a long way. Volleyball may be a bit out of the mainstream of popular interscholastic sports but in Natick it’s recognized and appreciated by its fans.
The 2007 NHS volleyball team has hall of fame credentials now. And, they acquired them the old-fashioned way. By earning them.