Girls volleyball is traditionally a top-tier sport on the Record-Journal shelf. Last year, all but one area team reached the postseason and two of them — Cheshire and Southington — were the 1-2 seeds in Class LL.
While area squads suffered their customary losses to graduation, they all return a core group of veterans, so 2018 should not see any dramatic dropoff in play.
On the coaching front, Cheshire’s Sue Bavone, at 488-89, is approaching a career milestone as she enters her 24th season, while down in Wallingford, a first-year head coach, Marion Kish, takes over at Lyman Hall.
Divisional alignments have been reconfigured for the SCC schools. Cheshire and Lyman Hall are in the Hammonasset with Branford, Hand and Mercy. Sheehan is in the Quinnipiac with Hamden, Law, Sacred Heart Academy and Career.
Lyman Hall and Sheehan will still play a pair of rivalry matches, starting in the season opener Tuesday evening at Lyman Hall at 6:30.
In the CCC, the divisions remain the same for Southington (West) and the Meriden schools (South). Platt and Maloney play their rivalry matches on Oct. 3 and Oct. 25. Cheshire
The Rams were a juggernaut in 2017, rolling undefeated through the regular season and to the SCC championship.
Seeded No. 1 in Class LL, the Rams steamed into the semifinals before injuries — and Amity — caught up with them. The rival Spartans ended Cheshire perfection at 23-0 with a 3-1 verdict in the Final Four.
Cheshire lost some key pieces of that team, including All-SCC selections Elena Piran and Karly Pedbereznak, the setter. Also gone is middle hitter Brady McQuade and defensive specialist Meghan Kroqi.
The Rams are still going to be formidable. Up front, they return All-SCC players in senior middle Meagan Clyne (92 kills, 30 blocks, 40 aces) and junior outside hitter Lindsey Abramson (138 kills, 50 aces). Both were out with injuries when last season ended in the semis.
Also back are senior setter Michelle Frenkel (171 assists), senior libero Nina Montagna (127 digs) and senior opposites Mia Juodaitis (88 kills, 20 blocks) and Jenny Wang (81 kills). Junior Julia Bartiet (29 kills, 19 blocks) adds further experience to the middle.
Moving up the ranks are seniors Emily Russolillo, Ida Hoxha and Gro Letnes and juniors Ari Perlini, Emma Watkinson and Colleen Brumleve.
“They are excited to get back in the gym and begin matches,” said Bavone. “We should be very competitive both in our conference and in the state, and if we can keep everyone healthy, hope to make a deep run in the state tournament.”
The Rams open Friday in East Haven. They have a chance for some payback against Amity in their home opener on Tuesday.Southington
Coach Rich Heitz and his Blue Knights roll into the season having to replace the majority of starters from a 2017 squad that went 21-4 and reached the Class LL semifinals before falling to eventual champ Greenwich.
Southington graduated All-State setter Stephanie Zera, All-Conference libero Nolyn Allen and All-Conference hitter Hannah Zelina. Go-to hitters Erica Bruno and Sarah Myrick are also gone.
Yet the cupboard is hardly bare. Haley Larabee and Jenna Martin are back as seniors. Larabee was among team leaders last season with 174 kills, while Martin was Southington’s top server (94.8 percent, 78 aces).
Junior Brooke Cooney returns after piling up 194 kills from the right side as a sophomore. Cooney was also a solid server with 50 aces.
Beyond that, new starters step forward. Senior Lynsey Danko looks to fill the vacancy at libero. Katherine Gundersen, a six-foot junior, can fill multiple spots on the front row. Another six-footer, sophomore Veronika Gorski, is expected to contribute immediately at middle hitter.
“Graduation of most of the previous year’s team may present some early season challenges, although [this] young team does possess much improved height from a year ago,” assessed Heitz, who is assisted by Kasia Kalinowski. “[We are a] strong serving and passing team and will use that strength to compete with top teams in league.”
Tops on that list is reigning No. 1 and Class L champion RHAM. The Blue Knights go to Hebron on Sept. 17. In the CCC West, Glastonbury, Farmington and Avon are the prime challenges.
The Blue Knights are the only local team to open Thursday. They’re at home versus Masuk at 6 p.m.Platt
The recent quality of the Platt program can be measured with a glance at some college rosters. Gabriela Vazquez, star of the Class L championship team of 2015, is at SCSU. Genesis Cora, Tierney Clancy and 2017-18 Record-Journal Player of the Year Vanessa Isyk are at Albertus Magnus.
Talent still abides on Oregon Road. The catch is, the numbers are small. The Panthers, who graduated Kiara Lopez and Machaila Arjavich along with Isyk this spring, head into 2018 with only eight players on varsity.
“Our family is strong when we play together,” said coach Lou Gianacoplos. “We continue to grow each day.”
Gianacopolos heads into his ninth year at Platt with a record of 119-42. Last fall, his troops went 11-10 and fell in the first round of Class L tournament to Pomperaug.
This year, they’ll be led by their two seniors, hitter Kallan Doyon and libero Lillian Montana. They’re the captains. Last year, Montana led Platt with 229 digs.
The Panthers have an experienced hand at setter in junior Caitlyn Hart (407 assists) and height in the middle with 5-foot-10 sophomore Aaliyah Burnley
Beyond that, Platt will need to develop its up-and-coming players. To that end, Gianacopolos will be aided by assistant coaches Adam Viviano and Lou Gianacopolos Jr.
“I am not a believer to focus on if you’re a team to beat or rebuilding,” the head coach said. “I focus on improving our players each day and being as competitive as possible through the season to prepare for playoffs.”
Step 1 comes Friday, when Platt hosts Berlin at 6 p.m.Maloney
Kevin Savejs and his Spartans launch into 2018 looking to turn it up after last year’s 10-11 campaign, which ended with a first-round loss in Class L to Masuk.
Maloney lost All-Conference hitters Melanie Polanco (177 kills) and Anna Hendrickson (171), but return a solid core led by seniors Carly Massicotte and Isabel Frazza. Massicotte, the setter, handed out 480 assists last year. Frazza, the libero, led the team with 160 digs.
Also, senior hitter Madison Clancy rejoins the squad after missing 2017 to injury.
The Spartans bring back additional experience with junior Laila Martinez and seniors Grace Anetrella and Shanice Smith. All three were fixtures in last year’s rotation.
Ready for expanded roles are seniors Brooke Lavalle, Joanna Perez, Jailine Carrero and Karen Rodiles as well as juniors Brooke Lathe, Daisa Mongillo, Emma Burns and Megan Koscinski.
Lauren Matias and Elizabeth Barton are in the varsity mix as sophomores.
Like Platt, Maloney opens at home Friday, hosting Middletown at 5:45 p.m.Wilcox Tech
After a one-year absence, veteran coach Sue Planinshek returns to the Wilcox bench. She retakes the reins of a team that went 16-4 in the inauguaral Connecticut Technical Conference campaign.
The Indians bid farewell to some solid seniors, starting with Nicole Tiezzi and Sheyenne Sinicrope. Both were All-Conference.
Also lost to graduation were Haille Carroll, Yamileth Pebe, Karina Torres, Sara Morin and Krystina Chanthinith.
Experience returns in defensive specialist Madison Rios and hitter Yineiry Torres, both seniors. Setter Carly Rich and middle Chloe LaBissoniere are back as juniors. LaBissoniere had quite a sophomore season, compiling 94 digs, 84 kills and 31 blocks.
The Tribe opens 2018 with three home games: Prince Tech (Friday), Windham Tech (Monday) and Norwich Tech (Wednesday).Sheehan
A glance at their record suggests the Titans were middle of the road last year. They finished 13-12 after a second-round Class M loss to Nonnewaug.
Yet hidden in that record were a pair of 3-1 battles with Cheshire and three-set postseason slugfests with Lauralton Hall and Wolcott.
So the Titans have grit, as exemplified in All-SCC First Team and All-RJ libero Emily Musso. Last year, Musso switched to defense from outside hitter and responded with an area-best 478 digs.
Musso is back for her senior season and will be counted upon to lead a young squad. The Titans graduated All-SCC Second Teamer Sydney Hunt (212 kills) along with Sam Iannone (161) and Carolyn Biel (126).
They bring back front-liners in junior Macey Sundwall and sophomore Caitlyn Hunt. Sundwall had a team-best 37 blocks a year ago to go along with 97 kills. Hunt had 78 kills.
Moving up the ranks are junior Callie Sarracini, who steps in as setter, and sophomore hitters Emily Jockle and Lydia Dellipoali.
“We have a very young team,” said Victoria Sperrazza, now in her second season as head coach and fourth overall with Sheehan. “I have sophomores starting varsity this year, so there’s a lot of rebuilding.
“They have great chemistry on the court and are very trusting of each other, so they work really well together,” Sperrazza added. “We have more height now than we’ve had in a long time. I think this is a very strong team this year and I believe they have great potential as long as they keep working hard and working together.”Lyman Hall
The Trojans start a new era with the arrival of one-time Sheehan Titan Marion Kish as head coach. Kish replaces Karolina Wytrykowska, who stepped down after five seasons.
The Trojans went 5-15 last year and missed out on the postseason. They aim to climb back up the SCC and Class L ladders led by senior captains Nicole Albert and Eryka West.
While LH did graduate All-Record-Journal player Avery LaChance (146 kills, 164 digs), a good portion of the squad is back. Albert, the setter, is at the hub. She’ll wheel and deal to West, junior Hailey Bruneau and sophomores Ellery Campbell and Katie Madow.
Mackenzie Grady is projected to crack the varsity ranks as a freshman.
“We are expecting to be a .500 team this year,” said Kish. “We are a young squad with only six upperclassmen, but a lot of talent has returned.”