The image on the lock screen of Delfy Soler’s iPhone serves a motivational purpose.
The image is a screenshot from the MIAA website displaying the final score of the North boys’ volleyball final between Lawrence and Chelmsford.
In descending order, it reads “Finals, Chelmsford 3-0 Lawrence,” with Chelmsford highlighted in red, signifying the Lions’ victory over Soler and his Lancer teammates.
For a Lawrence team that went 20-4 in 2018 under first-year coach Hector Sanchez , it is a stark reminder of what could have been.
“It still hurts,” said Sanchez, who directed a turnaround season from a 6-16 campaign in 2017.
“That was one of the main inspirations for the team in the offseason to work harder, and keep it in mind that the goal for this year is to surpass that last year and go [farther].”
Lawrence, ranked 13th in this week’s Globe Top 20, still take the loss seriously 10 months later. The Lancers defeated No. 18 Chelmsford, their Merrimack Valley Conference foe, 3-1 last Friday. But there is no sense of contentment. Lawrence dropped back-to-back matches on Wednesday (No. 5 Needham) and Thursday (No. 10 Wayland) in the April break ALS ONE Invitational. Sanchez said the two games were just what the Lancers needed to keep themselves in check in the first month of the season.
“Overall, it’s better competition,” Sanchez said. “Once the playoffs come, we have to work on a couple things, but we should be out there with the best teams in the state.”
Traditionally, Lawrence has been in the mix of the state’s elite. Since 2013 — when the Lancers last won a North title — they are 106-38 with three North final appearances. Take out the forgettable 2017 season, and Lawrence is 100-22.
Soler, along with classmate Adrian Espinal have been the driving force behind making the Lancers’ offense as efficient as possible. Soler, a 5-foot-11-inch senior righthanded hitter, does not have a high vertical, but what he lacks in height, he makes up for in power. On April 10, Soler broke the school record for kills in a match when he tallied 34 in a 3-1 win over No. 19 Central Catholic. It surpassed the previous mark, 32, by his coach, when he was a senior in 2002.
“I didn’t even know, I was just in the motion, just going through it, and after the game [the team] started pushing me and was like ‘oh, you broke the record.’ ” said Soler.
“I didn’t even notice. It was a good accomplishment that comes from freshman year, just playing hard.”
Soler followed that with a 24-kill performance against Chelmsford and tallied 20 against Wayland on Thursday. He reminds Sanchez of himself.
“He’s the type of hitter that can get to different angles,” Sanchez said. “Most of your hitters, they want to go straight into the block. He can switch from different positions so that will make an effect. He can go to the five or to the one when he wants to.
“He’s an average athlete, but he’s got a good hand, a good wrist, and he can see the ball. He’s really an IQ guy.”
Both Sanchez and Soler emphasized the Lancers’ need to improve their defense. That was evident on Thursday, when Wayland’s Ryan Fuller and Mike Long teamed up for 24 kills. Lawrence also had trouble countering Wayland’s blocks (14). Lancers stayed close with Wayland in the first two sets of a 3-1 loss, falling 25-22 and 25-23. Lawrence took the third set, 25-19, before Wayland jumped out to a 15-9 lead in the fourth set before winning it, 25-12.
“We’ve got to stay more consistent especially [on] defense,” Sanchez said. “When we’re consistent[ly] moving and pick[ing] up the digs, it gives us a second chance for our team to have better offense.”
And that focus starts in practice.
“Watching the hitters, watching how they’re playing, the positioning,” Soler said. “If they’re hitting angle, line, just getting low, moving our feet, just getting to the ball faster.”
The Lancers face just four Top 20 opponents five times over their remaining 15 games (No. 17 Lowell twice, No. 18 Chelmsford, No. 19 Central Catholic, and No. 3 Milford). But if the strong start evolves into something greater, Lawrence can put last year’s loss firmy in the background.
Matches to Watch
Tuesday, No. 4 Boston Latin at No. 2 Newton South, 4:30 p.m. — The Dual County League leaders square off in a battle of undefeated teams.
Wednesday, No. 12 Cambridge at No. 8 Acton-Boxborough, 6 p.m. — Cambridge has lost three out of its last four and will try to break the skid against the Colonials, which are 2-3 since starting 3-0.
Wednesday, No. 13 Lawrence at No. 17 Lowell, 5:30 p.m. — A rematch of last year’s North semifinals, in which Lawrence won 3-1 — will have the Lancers and Lowell jockeying for position in the MVC. Lowell could enter this match 5-0 if it beats Greater Lowell on Monday.
Thursday, North Quincy at No. 18 Chelmsford, 5 p.m. — A strong start by the Red Raiders could catch Chelmsford off guard and help propel them into the rankings for the first time this season.
Friday, No. 20 BC High at No. 5 Needham, 3:45 p.m. — A matchup between two perennial South powers is one of the best nonleague matchups this month. The Eagles and Rockets were a combind 35-4 in the regular season in 2018.Brandon Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.