New Saugus High School sport develops a popular following in two short years

It all starts at the top. If a coach has that dynamic to attract youngsters to a sport like volleyball who many have played only in gym class, it has a chance to succeed on the high school varsity level.

Pat Bemis has been an Algebra II and Integrated Math teacher at Saugus High School the last five years after graduating from Emmanuel College with degrees in Mathematics and Secondary Education. He grew up in western Pennsylvania, and started playing volleyball in the seventh grade. He continued his pursuit of the sport at Baldwin High School, just outside Pittsburgh, and then played it on the collegiate level all four years at Emmanuel, before graduating in 2006.

His assistant and current Saugus JV coach, Nicole LaMothe, also brings her own extensive knowledge of the sport to the second-year program.

They were both Saugus teachers when they coached volleyball teams at other Greater Boston high schools, when the thought of adding the sport to the Sachems athletic department was brought up three years ago.

Bemis was a volleyball coach at Watertown, and LaMothe was in a similar capacity at Hamilton-Wenham.

“I spoke to [SHS athletic director] Mike Nelson about what would it take to bring volleyball to Saugus High School,” coach Bemis said, “and it happened rather quickly. There was no time limit to be a club team. We just jumped right into the Northeastern Conference.”

The interest at the high school in general has been quite good about the sport, even before it developed as a varsity squad.

“Volleyball has been a part of fundraising events at the high school over the years, and the kids always got pumped up playing it in gym class,” Bemis said.

The Sachems won seven matches last year as a first year varsity program. They had already won seven this season, and still had one to go against North Andover earlier this week. Coach Bemis likes the progress he has seen in the program in just one year.

“We have actually improved a lot this year with seven seniors on the squad. They have matured faster in their volleyball skills faster than a typical second-year program,” Bemis said. “We have been more competitive with teams this year.”

The Sachems lost twice to Beverly last year, but turned that around with two wins over the Panthers this season. They took Revere to five games last Friday, and recently they extended the Hamilton-Wenham match to four games, before ultimately losing both hard fought contests.

On Senior Night last week against Swampscott, the student body came out en masse to witness the home team beating the Big Blue, 3-2.

“That was the best atmosphere that I’ve ever experienced as a coach,” said Bemis after the win over Swampscott. “There were tons of our fans there to cheer us on.”

The second-year program currently has 22 in its midst, nine of them on the varsity team, and most are multi-sport athletes. The future of the program also looks bright, according to Bemis.

“There are a lot of kids who want to be a part of the program over the next few years,” added Bemis. “They saw how exciting the sport is, when they showed up to watch us play Swampscott last week, and previously against Lynn Classical in a fundraiser for Breast Cancer Research.

 “There are a lot of current eighth graders who are interested in playing once they get to the high school, and we’ll also be out there recruiting to boost the numbers,” continued Bemis.

All in all, it’s a program that will only get better.

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