The first All-Record-Journal Volleyball Team was the first to sorely test our All-RJ philosophy of keeping it to the minumum.
Just six volleyball players? How do you do that when all seven area teams qualified for the state tournament and many of them — Southington and Sheehan, in particular — were the picture of balance?
Lipshez looked for a loophole. “Volleyball teams have rotations,” said Ken. “They don’t play just six.”
True. But we do. We’re sticking with six. The six we’d want on the floor in a gold medal game.
Dial ‘M’ for Murder on this team. We’ve got a Mallory and a Molly, a Melanie and a Morgan.
We’ve got five seniors who, in the estimation of their coaches, are capable of playing on the next level, yet are taking the same approach to college. Top priority is academic fit. If volleyball works into the equation, great. If it doesn’t, so it goes.
We’ve also got one junior who’s already been in the All-RJ spotlight — in a different sport.
We’ve got a setter. We’ve got two outside hitters and three middles, each of whom led her team in kills.
No libero? Not per se. All of these girls put up big numbers for digs and serve receive, though, so our defense is sound.
It’s a pretty sharp squad. We’ll put it up against anybody. Let it be served.
• Genesis Cora, sr. right-side hitter, Platt
Statistics confirm Genesis Cora had a great season. She led the 11-10 Panthers in serve receive (335), digs (213), kills (190) and aces (76), and she did it battling through a knee injury late in the season.
Statistics, though, are only half the story. As one of just two returning players from Platt’s 2015 state title season to a team that had no home gym thanks to construction, Cora nurtured a collection of young girls stepping into shoes of champions.
“Genesis really was that mother figure who took care of the team and, whenever there was an issue, really took everyone under her wing,” reported coach Lou Gianacopolos.
“This year was a strange year for our team,” Cora said. “I learned more than ever this year about not giving up and keep playing and giving your best for the team for the game that I love.”
The All-Conference player put talk into action. Before practice, she would take teammates aside to work on skills.
“That was beautiful,” Gianacopolos said. “That was not something I had to tell her to do. She knew what had to be done in order to get the team coming up ... She’s going to be a good coach.”
Although she has to rehab that late-season knee injury, Cora’s playing days aren’t necessarily over.
“She can play next year,” Gianacopolos said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that any [college] coach that sees her and gets to know her will want her as part of the team.”
• Mallory Gogliettino, sr. setter, Sheehan
Depth was the bedrock of Sheehan’s 14-9 season. Contributions came from all quarters and a number of Titans were in consideration for All-RJ.
Since everything goes through the setter, Mallory Gogliettino was the choice. She was the hub of a well-balanced wheel.
“She was definitely the glue of the team,” concurred coach Grace McCarthy. “All these great plays, these great hits: a lot of them couldn’t have happened without her. She always tried getting that second ball. She would make a bad pass look great. She’s quick, she’s determined. She never gave up.”
It also seems clear Gogliettino, who was named to the All-SCC Second Team, set the “team-first” tone of the squad.
“We meshed together with no drama. We all worked together and, when we do that, it makes such a big difference,” Gogliettino said. “It was a memorable season. As a team, we had so much success.”
One of Sheehan’s best games actually ended in defeat. It came in the second round of the CIAC Class M Tournament, a five-set epic in Plainville that went to the home team. Gogliettino had 47 assists in that match. Four Titans were in double digits for kills. Four had double digits for digs.
“We played so well and go so close,” Gogliettino said. “We almost had it. We lost by two points. We almost had it.”
• Rachyl Guilmette, sr. middle, Lyman Hall
Rachyl Guilmette put up big numbers in all departments throughout the season for the Trojans. There was one category in particular in which the senior middle hitter was pleased to make a dent.
“I stepped it up this year. I would go after every ball [even if] I landed on my face. I did whatever it took,” said Guilmette. “I love diving. I went four years without bleeding through my jersey, but I finally did this year.”
Her coaches agree. Guilmette had skin in the game. She was a go-getter who demanded excellence from herself and from teammates.
“She was one of the girls who always wanted it a specific way,” said assistant coach Daryl Ostapowicz. “She made other girls try even harder based on her skills, almost like that natural athlete who wants to push not just herself to the next level, but all the kids to the next level.”
Ostapowicz has been at LH since head coach Karolina Wytrykowska took charge of the program three years ago. “Rachyl was a sophomore at the time,” Ostapowicz recounted. “Just watching her progress through the years, it was noticeable senior year. She really stepped up this year.”
• Molly Michaud, sr. middle, Cheshire
Molly Michaud remembers her rookie year well. “I was just a little freshman who didn’t know what the rules of volleyball were,” she said.
Over the next four years, along with adding some height, Michaud more than learned the rules. She ruled. In her senior season, the middle hitter led the Rams in most statistical categories.
“Molly was just really strong in the middle for us and, offensively, was our toughest matchup for teams,” noted coach Sue Bavone. “She led us in kills, she led us in blocks and she led us in aces. That’s a lot for a middle. She did a tremendous job for us this year.”
The Rams went 18-5. They were SCC runners-up to Amity and reached the Class LL state quarterfinals before bowing out against Stamford. Michaud earned All-SCC and All-State recognition.
“It’s amazing. As a freshman I never imagined that I would be here today,” she said. “Now that people are honoring me for all of my hard work, it shows that hard work does pays off.”
• Melanie Polanco, jr. middle, Maloney
We approach our All-RJ teams the way Saturday Night Live approaches its best hosts. If you’re good, we’re going to bring you back.
Maloney’s Melanie Polanco made the inaugural All-RJ girls basketball team last winter and is on the first All-RJ volleyball team this fall after leading the Spartans in kills (244), kill percentage (42.0), aces (88) and blocks (15) as a middle hitter. She also had strong defensive numbers: 139 serve receives and 115 digs.
Polanco was named All-State Second Team. And she’s still only a junior.
“The improvement from last year to this year: If she improves that same amount next year, she’s going to be off the charts,” remarked volleyball coach Kevin Savejs. “She always comes in and works as hard as she can everyday.”
Savejs cites Polanco’s natural athletic ability as the foundation to her game. “You see it both in volleyball and basketball,” he said. “She sees the court very well, reads defense, which is something that is very hard to teach.”
For her part, here’s how Polanco sized up her two sports as she segues from one to the other.
“Basketball is more aggressive, but in volleyball you can really show your passion,” she said. “We did really well together as a team. I’m very proud of my girls for the season we had. We worked together as a family.”
• Morgan Raymond, sr. outside, Southington
The 17-4 Blue Knights were a complete team this fall. Their most complete player was All-State First Teamer Morgan Raymond.
The senior outside hitter was a rock on defense and offense. She led the team in serve receive (521), digs (299), kills (241) and kill percentage (41.6). She also had 51 aces and a 91.8 serve percentage.
“A great competitor, a great teammate,” said coach Rich Heitz. “Not only a pleasure to coach, but a pleasure to be around.”
For all her diverse talents, Raymond’s favorite part of the game is the big hit, the one that feels good on contact and ignites the crowd when it lands.
“I love the feeling after I get a good hit, a kill that hits the floor,” she said. “I can feel when I jump up that it’s a great hit.”
As the captain of quality teammates, Raymond was able to grow as a player and a leader this fall. As the daughter of a quality athlete — her mother Noelle (Emmette) is in the Bryant University Athletics Hall of Fame as volleyball player — Raymond looks to continue her career.
“It was an amazing year and the team chemistry was the best. We saw a lot of growth in the team,” she said. “I’m hoping to play in college. My mom played in college as well and she was a huge role model of mine.”