The top two seeds in last year’s Class LL girls volleyball tournament share a border, but the 2018 state championship can’t be found in either Southington or Cheshire.
It's further south at Amity Regional.
As the No. 1 seed, Southington lost to Darien in the semifinals, while No. 2 seed Cheshire fell in the quarterfinals to Amity, a team the Rams had beaten in the regular season and again in the SCC tournament final.
Both Southington and Cheshire went 18-0 during the regular season to secure the top spots in Class LL. Despite heavy losses to graduation, expect both squads to be in the mix again this season.
Repeating last year’s success will be a tall task for Southington, though the Blue Knights have the height to be up the challenge. Getting the ball to those players is the first step.
“The challenge we are going to go through is the starters who graduated were the majority of our serve receive, which is a critical aspect of the game,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said. “The five players who graduated were significant.”
None were more important in that regard than All-State players Haley Larrabee and Lynsey Danko. Larrabee, the Record-Journal Girls Volleyball Player of the Year, had a team-high 192 kills with 216 digs and 46 aces. Danko, as libero, had 362 digs and 495 serve receives.
Also departed is fellow All-RJ and All-CCC player Jenna Martin. She had 459 digs and 117 kills.
But there is still plenty of talent to try to extend Southington’s streak of success. Southington has advanced to the past two state semifinals, played for a state title in 2011 and won it all under Heitz in 2009.
Returning this season are a pair of six-footers: senior Katherine Gundersen and junior Veronika Gorski. Junior Kayli Garcia is 5-foot-10, while 5-9 junior Brooke Cooney brings plenty of punch from the outside (185 kills in 2018).
Cooney is starting her third varsity season and Heitz expects big things from the outside hitter.
“We do return a good chunk of our front line, but there are some holes. We are still trying to figure out who fills out our service receive pattern best,” Heitz said. “I like where we are serving, but our issue, like a lot of teams, will be getting the ball to our setter and our setters getting the ball to our hitters.”
Two new setters will be counted on to do that job: junior Victoria Zajda and senior Mackenzie Coppola.
Era Pasha, Isabell Myrick and Kaley Smith will be expected to step up behind their taller teammates and transition Southington’s defense to offense. Pasha is a second-year varsity player who will anchor the defense, while Smith joins the varsity as a junior.
“Last year’s team was probably one of the strongest service-receive and passing teams I’ve had, which helps a lot,” Heitz said. “Making that first pass off the other team’s serve: What combination of players can make that pass is what we are working on.
“But we are stronger in some areas and not as strong in others,” Heitz added. “We will just have to play to our strengths and develop our weaknesses.”
Southington dominated CCC foes last season, surrendering just four games. This year, the Blue Knights will have plenty of competition as they try to repeat as CCC regular-season champions.
Avon returns a strong senior class, which includes outside hitter Emily Empsey (273 career kills) and 6-2 setter Abby St. Onge (572 career assists). Conard also returns one of the CCC’s top juniors, Amery Theriault.
“We’ll be competitive, but it’s early,” Heitz said. “We will probably go through some growing pains. We just need to play smart and to our strengths. That’s what we try to do each year.”
Cheshire lost eight players off last year’s team, including Record-Journal Female Athlete of the Year Mia Juodatis (148 kills) and Meagan Clyne, a force in the middle.
This year’s situation makes Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone harken back to her first of four state-title seasons, when she won it all after the departure of eight seniors.
“Back in the day, when I first started coaching, my athletic director said to me, ‘In Cheshire, we don’t rebuild, we reload,’ so I’ve always had that philosophy in my mind.
“I always keep close attention to the junior varsity team and it’s development so we can reload,” Bavone added. “That’s why I’m hoping this group of sophomores can overcome the pace of the game, which is much faster on varsity. Once they get comfortable, they’ll be fine. They have the skills.”
Before we get to those sophomores, a few things about the upperclassmen. The Rams boast five — four of whom started as juniors — led by co-captains Lindsey Abramson and Ariana Perlini.
Perlini was named the SCC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, while Abramson had 162 kills as a junior. Also back is Julia Bartiet (95 kills). Bartiet and Abramson played together on the Junior National team this summer.
The fourth senior starter is Emma Watkinson, who brings plenty of presence at the net (136 assists as junior). She will be the Rams’ main setter after junior Sarah Holley torn her labrum in June.
The other senior is Colleen Brumleve, who anchors the defense.
But it takes more than five pieces to win in the SCC and beyond, and Holley’s injury has caused Bavone to change her preconceived lineup this season.
Junior Alenna Zebarth moves to outside hitter after lining up in the middle last season. Another junior, Hanna Portal, will play the middle.
Cheshire’s continued success under Bavone, who has over 500 wins, will depend on how fast the younger Rams adapt to the varsity game. Two sophomores, Jenna Stickney and Grace Downing, are vying to crack the rotation as outside hitters.
“Having sophomores in the mix is unusual for us,” Bavone said. “But you have to do what you have to do.”
The past two years, Amity has ushered a perfect Cheshire squad out of the state tournament.
“They’ve had our number [in states] the past three years,” Bavone said. “But they got hit pretty hard by graduation.”
That makes Guilford “a team to look out for,” according to Bavone.
“We take our division and conference with a lot of seriousness,” Bavone said. “We always want to be in contention for a state title. It’s going to be one of those years where it depends on how quickly our young players can overcome some jitters and gain confidence.”Maloney
The Spartans return two All-CCC players in Laila Martinez and Brooke Lathe. Martinez was also named to the All-Record Journal squad.
As versatile as they come, Martinez was deployed by head coach Kevin Savejs as an outside hitter and she also excelled on defense. Martinez didn’t lead the Spartans in any category last season, but was among the leaders in nearly every one: 221 serve receives, 144 digs, 82 kills, 62 aces.
Martinez had a season-high 11 aces against Middletown and is a major reason why the Spartans advanced to both the CCC and Class L tournaments.
After an 11-9 regular season, Maloney lost to Bristol Eastern in the first round of the conference tournament. The Spartans then fell in the first round of the Class L playoffs to Brookfield in four games.
Lathe led the Spartans with 119 kills and had 51 digs. Also returning is senior Emma Burns and her 66 aces. Another senior expected to shine is setter Dasia Mongillo (60 assists).
Junior Lauren Matias will play a significant role at outside hitter, as will sophomore Savannah Bernabucci. Manning the middle will be Courtney Ubaike, Elizabeth Barton and Milytza Perez.Platt
After nine seasons above .500, Lou Gianacopolos’ Panthers suffered a down 2018. Platt finished 7-12, dropping its final two matches in five sets. As a result, the Panthers fell one win short of the postseason.
Don’t expect Platt miss the postseason again. The Panthers lost just one starter to graduation and return All-R-J selection Caitlyn Hart and plenty of experience.
Like Martinez at Maloney, Hart provides plenty of options for Platt. The senior can play any spot on the floor and led the Panthers in virtually every category last season: 134 kills, 86 aces and 201 digs.
Hart isn’t the only Platt standout who is returning. Also back is middle blocker Aaliyah Brunley. Like Hart, Brunley was an All-CCC selection.
Outside hitter Ashlee Long shined as a sophomore and will be back with Jazmir Hudson, who had 119 digs as a sophomore.Wilcox Tech
Meriden’s tech school returns the first Wilcox player selected to the All-R-J Volleyball Team: Chloe LaBissoniere.
LaBissoniere is the girl who makes the Indians go, delivering from all over the court. A year ago, she had 128 kills, 79 digs, 45 aces and 17 blocks.
For her efforts, LaBissoniere was a captain as a junior and named team MVP. She was also All-CTC First Team.
“I really feel Chloe will continue to excel and I feel she will be a standout this year,” coach Sue Planinshek said.
Another senior to keep any eye on is Carley Rich, who from her outside hitting spot will complement LaBissoniere.
Two juniors will be relied on to get the ball to LaBissoniere and Rich: Victoria Logodicio and Montgomery Rios. “They know what they need to do,” Planinshek said.
Sophomore Sacaria Cooper is a middle hitter with plenty of potential, while Mikela Mitchell has moved up from the JV and will be expected to deliver offense from the outside.
“I really feel [Cooper] is one to watch,” Planinshek said. “I also feel [Mitchell] will deliver.”Lyman Hall
The Trojans feature four seniors in the starting lineup and all were named captains. Hailey Bruneau and Anastasia Pezza boast the stats, but just as important are fellow team leaders Kiera Farley and Alyssa Dodge.
Bruneau led Lyman Hall with 173 kills in 2018 and an impressive 31.2 kill percentage. She also had a second-best 51 aces.
Pezza, a middle hitter, had a team-high 32 blocks.
“Hailey was a main component to our offense and her serve-receive was very important,” coach Marion Kish said. “Anastasia was just the heart of our team out of the middle.”
The other two captains’ contributions may not show up in the scorebook, but are just as critical — Farley as the main setter, Dodge on defense.
Lyman Hall was 10-10 last year in the regular season. After winning its opening SCC Tournament match, the Trojans lost to top-seed Cheshire in the quarters. The Trojans then lost to Guilford in the Class L playoffs.
Three underclassmen return after starting a year ago. Juniors Ellery Campbell and Macenzie Regan will again be expected to aid the attack. Campbell was a constant force at the net with 123 kills as a sophomore, while Regan had 20 blocks and 62 kills at middle blocker.
Then there is sophomore Mackenzie Grady, who as a freshman libero keyed the defense. Grady moves to outside hitter this season after digging 226 balls and being a reliable service returner.
Sophomore Sophia Donath also has the potential to contribute at the middle-blocker position.Sheehan
The Titans lost All-State libero Emily Musso, but coach Victoria Sperrazza has reason for optimism. Musso is one of only three starters who graduated and there is plenty of varsity experience on the court this season for Sheehan.
Madison Gaynor will try to replace Musso. While Gaynor didn’t get much varsity time playing behind Musso, Sperrazza sees plenty of improvement in her game and Gaynor could be the Titans’ strongest defensive player.
Also back is outside hitter Eliana Tolentino and middle hitter Macey Sundwall, who Sperrazza has seen develop into a leader since her sophomore season on varsity.
Junior Caitlyn Hunt made the All-R-J team as a sophomore and is one of the team’s strongest hitters from the middle. Another junior, Lydia Dellipoali, as been on varsity since her freshman year and is the Trojans’ most consistent server.
So, minus Musso — which is a big loss — the Trojans have the pieces in place to make missing the 2018 SCC tournament and state playoffs with a 7-13 record a one-year experience.
“I’m feeling great about this season,” Sperrazza said. “The girls have been playing together in the summer for a long time, so the chemistry between the players is just great and they are fun to watch.
“They are just a really upbeat team full of leaders. They are all really happy when someone makes a good play. Last year was tough, but this year can be awesome.”