GIRLS VOLLEYBALL 2017: From Ace to Zera, these girls have it covered
GIRLS VOLLEYBALL 2017: From Ace to Zera, these girls have it covered
September 6, 2017 08:31AM
By Ken Lipshez
SOUTHINGTON — Stephanie Zera has a well-deserved opportunity to put adversity behind her and take her place among the best setters in the star-studded history of Southington volleyball.
Zera wrested the starting nod from an upperclassman as a sophomore, but suffered an ACL tear in March of 2016. She played last season at less than 100 percent, but enters her senior campaign as the Blue Knights’ captain with a clean bill of health.
“She couldn’t play full-tilt,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said. “She had a brace on, but now it’s off. She’s a special player, one of the top two setters I’ve ever had.”
Even with the brace, Zera was an efficient cog in the Southington’s configuration along with fellow All-CCC performers Morgan Raymond and Kelly Kritz. She amassed 674 assists feeding a talented array of hitters and landed over 90 percent of her serves, 62 for aces.
She also showed the kind of savvy to catch her foes off-guard with a dink over the net when they were preparing for her to set.
Versatile middle hitter Hannah Zelina comes off a productive junior year where she led the Blue Knights in blocks (57) and aces (76). Her success rate on the service line also topped 90 percent and she made 182 kills.
“Hannah is a pretty effective server for a middle hitter, so we like to have her earlier in the rotation where possible,” Heitz said.”I’m not sure we have had a middle hitter that enjoys serving so much.”
Erica Bruno also played extensively in the middle last year, knocking down 134 kills. The 5-foot-10 Zelina and 5-9 Bruno, two of Southington’s tallest players, will receive more time as outside hitters this year.
The lack of height has Heitz considering a change in strategy.
“We’re size-challenged, but we’ll play a quicker style,” he said. “We have an accurate setter and good passers.”
Enter defensive specialist Nolyn Allen, who played in virtually every set last year and finished second to Raymond in digs (294) and serve receptions (333).
Sarah Myrick also brings experience to the back line and has displayed the capability to do some damage in the front. Jenna Martin, Jaley Larabee and Brooke Cooney are challenging for outside hitter roles in the rotation.
While the Rams lost their key playmakers, the SCC and the state elite are well aware that any team coached by Sue Bavone will find its way toward the top.
The most prominent returnee is multi-sport athlete Brady McQuade. The 6-footer drilled 112 kills and recorded 21 blocks last season.
Setter Karly Pedberezniak (142 assists, 19 digs) was a reserve last year. So were defensive specialists Megan Kroqi (35 digs), Alexis Benevenuti (33 digs) and Ava Millarese.
Starting slots on offense next to McQuade are subject to preseason performance.
“Our team will have a lot of new faces on the offensive side of our lineup and we are looking forward to having a good balance between offense and defense this year,” Bavone said. “We should be competitive in both our conference and at the state level.”
Jennny Wang, Lindsey Abramson, Meagan Clyne and Mia Judaitis are among those likely to crack the rotation.
The Panthers lost their big hitter Genesis Cora, but have the other pieces from last year’s team returning.
Versatile All-CCC hitter Vanessa Isyk has been playing a role on the varsity dating back to her sophomore season when Platt won the Class L state championship.
Isyk was second to Cora in kills last year (175) and had the top kill percentage (30.8). She was also second to Cora in digs with 157 and knocked down 43 aces, good for third on the squad.
Kiara Lopez gives coach Lou Gianacopolos a tower of strength in the middle after leading the team in blocks (39) and landing 85 kills.
“Early in the season, I see Vanessa Isyk and Kiara Lopez leading the team offensively,” Gianacopolos said. “With our returning sophomore setters and junior defenseman along with our new look in the middle, our team has the potential to be very successful.”
Caitlyn Hart firmly established herself in a setter’s role last season as a freshman by handing out 425 assists. She also showed defensive ability (93 digs) and productivity at the service line (62 aces, second to Cora).
While her sister Angel-Lee Hart didn’t play as much, she gained some experience as a setter and right-side hitter. Jennifer Rita also put up solid numbers (played in all 71 sets, 51 kills, 10 blocks) when Lopez rotated out of the front row and has shown considerable progress in the preseason. Hitter Machaila Arjavich and libero Lillian Montana played in more than half of Platt’s sets last year.
“The key to our success is going to be the growth of each individual as the season goes on,” Gianacopolos said. “I feel we are a new team in a new year with new goals.”
The Spartans have one of the most dynamic players in the state in Melanie Polanco, but graduation, a key injury, the departure of a prominent player and a lack of size are barriers they’ll have to overcome.
Polanco, second-team All-State and first-team All-CCC last year, is a powerful force in all aspects of the game. Offensively, she rammed down 244 kills. Defensively, she made 115 digs. At the service line, she launched 88 aces.
Polanco, also a star on the basketball court, played largely on the inside last year, but moves outside where she’ll have better angles to pick her spots.
“Melanie looks great,” Maloney coach Kevin Savejs said. “She looks good on the outside. It’s a little different than the middle, but she’s adapting well. She passes real well. Her athleticism is a gift.”
Isabell Frazza returns at libero. She led the team in serve receptions (243) and was second in digs (159). Hitter Anna Hendrickson enjoyed a fine junior campaign, contributing in the front (41 kills), on defense (89 digs, 203 serve receptions) and at the service line (28 aces, 89 percent success rate).
Carly Massicotte, largely a JV player as a sophomore last year, moves in as starting setter.
The availability of middle hitter Madison Clancy (88 kills) is in doubt due to an injury that could prevent her from playing this season. Nicole Freeman, a starter as a junior last year, has moved out of state.
“We have a really solid group, but we’re really lacking in height, which is the M.O. of the teams I’ve coached here,” Savejs said. “We’ll focus on our defense, which I think is farther along this year than last.”
The tears flowed profusely when the Titans lost to Plainville in a scintillating, defensive-oriented 3-2 Class M second-round match last November 9.
But given the level of play down the stretch, those tears served to nourish the seed that’s blossoming up on Hope Hill under the direction of new coach and former assistant Victoria Sperrazza.
Four major graduation losses leave tri-captains Carolyn Biel, Sydney Hunt and Sam Iannone with the challenge of spreading the commitment, love and dedication to the underclassmen seeking to crack the rotation. Sperrazza is impressed.
“These girls have been playing together for a long time and the cohesion is phenomenal,” the former Titan player said. “They’re friends off the court, too, and the chemistry is something I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Because of their unity, Sperrazza chose not to single out individuals. She’s confident that approach will enable the program to take another step forward.
“We’re not a team with superstars,” she said. “It’s almost like pieces that complete the puzzle. Every single girl is a leader in her own way.”
Seniors Kayleigh Corless, Haley DelGrego and Kari Dietle figure prominently in the rotation. Libero Emily Musso had a stellar sophomore season. Meghan Murphy and Samantha Hart are also ready to go.
“We’ve played around with positions so they’re [versatile],” Sperrazza said. “It’s kind of a surprise and it’s very exciting to watch. They take it seriously but they know it’s supposed to be fun.”
Graduation losses have left the Trojans with a young team, but a large turnout that included numerous players instilled with a solid volleyball foundation has coach Karolina Wytrykowska enthused.
The team’s returning core used its offseason time resourcefully.
“Avery LaChance is our strongest hitter,” Wytrykowska said. “[OH] Eryka West and [setter] Nicole Albert, they all played club volleyball in the offseason and it shows.”
Shayna Sanford returns for her senior year after not playing a year ago. She will play the opposite side from Sanford and can fill the role as a second setter if Wytrykowska opts for that strategy.
The athleticism displayed by Hailey Bruneau makes her a likely starter as a sophomore. Aliyah Hunter returns on the outside.
Wytrykowska chose to cut some upperclassmen because of the promise she sees from her contingent of nine sophomores and freshmen. Among the freshmen is Ellery Campbell, whose sister Riley lit up the basketball floor as a freshman before transferring to Loomis.
“She’s picking everything up pretty quickly,” Wytrykowska said. “We’ll see who else steps up. I think the season looks bright because of how much talent the incoming classes bring. All of them can serve. We’re looking to see if they’ll make an impact. We’ll keep practicing and see what comes out of it.”
New coach Bryant Keith welcomes back a substantial number of experienced players as the Tribe embarks on its inaugural campaign in the Connecticut Tech School Conference (CTC).
Middle blockers Haille Carroll, outside hitter Yamileth Pebe and setter Nicole Tiezzi enjoyed productive seasons in 2016. Sara Morin, Sheyenne Sinicrope and libero Karina Torres round out a deep senior class.
But filling the holes created by the loss of hitter Valencia McClendon and defensive leader Rosa Rosado will prove a challenge.
“Bringing in a new coaching staff and losing a number of talented [senior leaders] makes it reasonable to think of this as a rebuilding year,” Keith said.
“But several seniors are coming of age as well as some gifted underclassmen. We hope to make some noise in the league.”
Younger players looking to fill roles are OH Carly Rich, middle blocker Chloe LaBissoniere, DS Madison Rios and hitter Yineiry Torres.