They came to the game at different points in their lives. One was as young as 3.
Some were converts from other sports. Some were legacies, following in the footsteps of their mothers in the very same schools in which they played a generation before.
Whatever their individual path, the following six girls have found a collective spot on the second annual All-Record-Journal Girls Volleyball Team.
And, however long they’ve played, whatever jersey they wore, they are in agreement: There is no sport that demands teammwork like volleyball.
“You all have to work constantly together. No one can take a break or else it will all fall apart,” Maloney’s Anna Hendrickson said. “It’s the team bonding that draws me in.”
That, and love for the game.
“I never get tired of it, for some reason,” said Sheehan’s Emily Musso. “Even when [we] go to the fifth set, I’m just so excited to play.”
These are the six players who, in an R-J coverage area filled with excellent volleyball teams — six of the seven made the postseason; two reached the state semifinals — played it best of all.
A player’s value can be measured by her statistics. It can also be measured by her absence.
Sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Abramson put down 138 kills and 50 aces as the Cheshire Rams ran the table in the regular season and in the SCC Tournament.
Then she blew out her knee in Cheshire’s Class LL state tourney opener.
The Rams managed to win that match and the one that followed in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, however, their perfect season came to a halt with Abramson and another injured starter, Meagan Clyne, on the sidelines.
That’s the bad news. The good news is the Rams have Abramson, who was named to the All-SCC Second Team, for two more years.
“Lindsey was our strongest hitter, best blocker and one of our toughest servers this season,” said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. “As a sophomore, she has very strong overall skills and I look forward to seeing her progression over the next two seasons.”
Not bad for an athlete who, aside from a little club and middle school volleyball, didn’t fully embrace the sport until high school.
“It was something different,” said Abramson, whose older sister Abby was last year’s Connecticut Gatorade Softball Player of the Year. “My sister was all softball all the time. I just wanted to change it up and I just fell in love with the sport.”
Abramson lists winning the SCC Tournament as this year’s highlight.
“That was really a team effort all the way around,” she said. “Our chemistry was great on the team. Our lineup was so deep that Sue could really sub in anyone and we’d still be fine.”
The Rams (23-1) were indeed loaded. Honorable Mentions for the All-RJ Team are Clyne, the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament, along with fellow All-SCC First Team selection Elena Piran.
Senior middle hitter Brady McQuade and All-SCC Second Team setter Karly Pedbereznak also warrant Honorable Mention.
Anna Hendrickson has volleyball in her DNA. Her mom, Christine (Niemiec) Hendrickson, also played for Maloney.
A generation later, Anna capped her career with an All-Conference season. The senior racked up 171 kills and 124 digs for the Spartans (10-11).
Hendrickson was also a menace from the service line. She served at a 92.4 percent success rate and found the floor with 74 aces.
Her No. 1 role, though, was as team captain. Hendrickson established herself as a leader last year as a junior and led the squad in offseason conditioning and agility drills.
“Anna was a vocal leader and the most consistent player on the court all season,” remarked coach Kevin Savejs. “She took on the role of captain and was the heart and soul of the team.”
All-RJ Honorable Mentions from the Spartans are senior outside hitter Melanie Polanco (177 kills) and junior setter Carly Massicotte (480 assists).
This is Hendrickson’s second All-RJ designation. She made the All-RJ Softball Team in the spring and that’s the sport she’s looking to play in college. Hendrickson wants to go into nursing.
Last year, at the end of her junior season, Vanessa Isyk sat down with coach Lou Gianacopolos, who made it clear she’d be one of the players the Panthers would lean on in 2017.
Isyk, one of the last remaining members of Platt’s 2015 state championship team, proved to be a pillar in her senior season. She piled up 184 kills, 192 digs and 282 serve receives to lead Platt to the CCC South-Colonial Division crown and an overall record of 11-10.
Quick, athletic and able to make contact with the ball above the net, Isyk was a captain who led by performance.
“She’s not a very vocal person on the court, but she certainly showed it with her play and physical attributes,” Gianacopolos said.
Like Anna Hendrickson, Isyk is a legacy player. Her mom, Diana (Gorley) Isyk, played at Platt. However, it did take some cajoling by mom and good friend and future teammate Julianne Pellegrino to get Vanessa on the volleyball court. Up until seventh grade, Isyk had only played soccer. (“That was different,” she said, “going from feet to hands.”)
Things really clicked for Isyk her freshman season. A year later, she was a member of the Class L title team.
The run, though, was terribly bittersweet. In the summer leading into her daughter’s sophomore year, Diane Isyk passed away.
The memory of her mother remains a driving force for Isyk, who hopes to play in college. Albertus Magnus has talked to her. Isyk, though, is leaning toward going to school in South Carolina, where her family vacations. She’d like to study pyschology or veterinary sciences. An animal lover, Isyk’s collection of pets growing up included a rabbit, Rottweiler, hamster, chicken and (currently) a cat.
Isyk was named All-Conference along with teammates Kiara Lopez (161 kills, 155 digs) and Caitlyn Hart (407 assists, 184 digs). Lopez, a senior middle, and Hart, a sophomore setter, are All-RJ Honorable Mention.
Roger Williams, Salve Regina, Monmouth and the University of New Haven are high on Avery LaChance’s list of prospective colleges. After she graduates this spring, the Lyman Hall senior wants to study law or criminal justice.
In some respects, that would be a continuation of her scholastic career on the volleyball court. Quite simply, when the Trojans needed someone to handcuff an opposing defense. LaChance was the one they summoned.
Talk about laying down the law. LaChance piled up 146 kills generating immense power from the left side.
A more than fair hand on defense, she also got to 164 digs.
When LaChance was in the zone, she was pretty much unstoppable. In one four-match stretch, LaChance totalled 41 kills and 40 digs. In another match outside of that run, LaChance collected 19 kills.
Feeding LaChance was junior setter Nicole Albert, who garners All-RJ Honorable Mention.
LaChance, as one of just three seniors on this year’s Lyman Hall squad, served in another pivotal role. She was a bridge to future seasons.
The Trojans (5-15) were very young this year. Their roster featured four freshmen and five sophomores. LaChance helped usher them to varsity level. She identified that as her highlight of the season.
“I like the sense of a team,” LaChance said. “You have to work together as a unit. I like the sense of the family-type of a team.”
Our search for defensive specialist on this year’s All-RJ Team was open and shut. There were several fine liberos on area courts this fall. One, however, clearly stood out.
It was Sheehan’s Emily Musso, who put up an area-best 478 digs.
”Emily is by far the best libero I've seen,” said Sheehan coach Victoria Sperrazza. “I could always rely on her to take charge on the court and be a leader. Everyone knew that if Emily got the ball, we had nothing to worry about.
”Other coaches complimented Emily on her defensive skills after just about each game and would joke that they kept telling their girls to keep the ball away from Emily.”
Those coaches did not play keep away with their All-Conference votes. Musso was named All-SCC First Team.
The funny thing is, Musso is something of an Accidental Libero. She grew up playing in Wallingford Parks & Rec, the Meriden Boys & Girls Club and Connecticut Juniors, yet never played libero until Sperrazza asked her to fill the role this season.
Musso, an outside hitter as a freshman and sophomore, sized up the team’s situation and donned the libero’s jersey. “I went and did it and I fell in love with it.”
Musso’s defense sparked an offense led by All-SCC Second-Teamer Sydney Hunt (212 kills), Samantha Iannone (161) and Carolyn Biel (126). Those three seniors are All-RJ Honorable Mention.
Sheehan went 13-12 and won postseason games in the SCC and Class M tournaments. Musso, however, takes most pride in her team’s performances against Cheshire. The Titans took two games from the Rams, who lost just five during the regular season.
As with libero, the search for All-RJ setter was a brief one.
Southington senior Stephanie Zera, fully recovered from the knee injury that had her wearing a cumbersome brace last year, had a monster final season. She led the Blue Knights (21-4) to the Class LL semifinals and earned her a spot in the Senior All-Star Game.
Zera’s numbers pop off the page. She had 979 assists this year and finished with more than 2,000 for her career.
Here’s a more telling number: 5. That’s the number of Southington hitters who had between 176-204 kills this season.
It takes a skilled setter, one who sees the entire court (and hears it, too), to distribute so broadly. Who’s calling for the ball? Who’s ready to hit? Who’s in the best position?
It’s an awful lot of sensory input to process. Zera found it best to go with the flow and not overthink. Errors too often lay in last-second decisions.
“I’ve got to think before I set who I’m going to set to, but usually it’s just reaction,” she said.
Zera was deferential to her targets. “The five hitters are so amazing,” she said. “I was confident in all of them in every game, so I was able to spread it around, which was nice. I wasn’t pressured to set one person.”
The Big 5 all warrant All-RJ Honorable Mention: seniors Erica Bruno (204 kills), Hannah Zelina (196), Sarah Myrick (196), sophomore Brooke Cooney (194) and junior Haley Larrabee (176). So does senior libero Nolyn Allen (455 digs).
Zera had 229 digs of her own. She also had a sweet serve, delivering at a 91.8 percent rate and landing 62 aces.
An aspiring physical therapist, Zera hasn’t decided if she’ll play in college. Even if she doesn’t, she’d play club ball.
Hey, Zera’s been at this game since going to Parks and Rec camps in elementary school. A torn up knee didn’t keep her out of action last year. These All-RJ girls, whenever they embraced the game, don’t let go so easily.