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VOLLEYBALL 2023: Serve it up and dig in, there’s plenty on the dish

MERIDEN — We had two conference volleyball champions last fall. Three teams reached the state quarterfinals. One made it to the semis.

This is called Business as Usual.

Girls volleyball remained among the strongest sports in the Record-Journal coverage area in 2022 and that’s unlikely to change in 2023.

Cheshire and Southington, both 22-3 a year ago, led by veteran coaches Sue Bavone and Rich Heitz, have conference crowns to defend — Cheshire in the Southern Connecticut Conference, Southington in the Central Connecticut Conference.

Those teams will also be in the state hunt in Class LL. Southington made it to the semifinals last year before falling to eventual champion and overall No. 1 Darien.

Platt also ran into an eventual state champion after a solid regular season and equally solid postseason run. Coach Adam Viviano’s Panthers reached the Class L quarterfinals, where No. 1 Joel Barlow was waiting.

Other area teams will be looking to advance further in the state tourney than they did last year (Maloney, Wilcox Tech) or qualify after missing out on the show (Lyman Hall, Sheehan).

All area teams took graduation hits, some more so than others. All are fairly optimistic, some more so than others, as a new campaign launches Thursday night. Here’s the lowdown, team by team.

Southington■2022: 22-3, CCC Tournament champion, Class LL semifinalist.■Key Losses: Makenzie Marek, Emma Pfanzelt, Haley Weiner and Jessica Greco.■Key Returners: Senior captains Megan Smith, Cami Wessels, Gabriella Wanner and Katrina Possidento; juniors Alyssa Ferreira, Natalee Grindle and Erika Davies.■Key Newcomer: Sophomore Paige Raines.■Season Opener: Thursday at Conard.■The Skinny: The Blue Knights graduated the bulk of their defense, including All-CCC West selection Makenzie Marek, but bring back plenty at the net, at the service line and at setter.

All-Stater Cami Wessels led SHS in kills last year with 346. Possidento, a two-year starter in the middle, was the leader in hitting percentage (.346) and second in kills (182).

Grindle, another middle, blossomed as a sophomore with 194 kills. Erika Davies emerged as a weapon on the right side. 

Alyssa Ferreira, a returning All-CCC West player, is a two-way force, both on defense and at outside hitter (192 kills). Paige Raines will help fill the graduation gaps on D.

At setter, coach Rich Heitz lost Weiner, but has options in Megan Smith and Gabriella Wanner.

In the regular season, the Blue Knights will look to defend their CCC West banner against  Avon, Conard, Farmington, Glastonbury, Hall, Northwest Catholic and Simsbury. A Columbus Day date with RHAM at Mohegan Sun Arena looms as a CCC Tournament preview. It’s a rematch of last year’s final.

Cheshire■2022: 22-3, SCC Tournament champion, Class LL quarterfinalist.■Key Losses: Avery Mola, Lauren Samela, Sophia Surato, Elizabeth Braun, Taryn Ugrin, Amelia Perlini, Lila Watkinson and Kathryn Ulicki.■Key Returners: Senior co-captains Mary Nugent and Kira Strauss; seniors Emma Danaher, Caitlin Fanning, Olivia Scotti and Lucero Rullan-Irizarry; juniors Eva Catalanotto, Katarina Pawlak, Skylar Miller-Melillo and Kaelyn Fitzgerald; sophomore Marissa Mudry.■Season Opener: Thursday, home vs. Shelton■The Skinny: There’s no way to cushion to blow. In graduating Avery Mola, the Rams graduated the volleyball player considered Connecticut’s best in 2022.■The outside hitter was also the SCC Player of the Year in 2021. Cheshire lost an additional All-SCC player in Lauren Samela. 

With Mola now playing Division III volleyball at Regis College, the Rams will need to be broader-based on the attack.

“We relied on Avery to put balls down, so we are going to need to hit by committee this year,” said coach Sue Bavone. “We have a lot of (defensive specialists). It gives us options depending on who is having a good night.

“We are going to rotate players in there, so it is important for the girls to put the team first.”

The Rams will do divisional battle in the SCC Hammonasset against Mercy, Hamden, Foran and East Haven.

Platt■2022: 17-8, CCC Tournament and Class L quarterfinalist.■Key Losses: Emily Hart and Ariana Soto.■Key Returners: Seniors Eva Dudley and Olivia Long, juniors Isabella DeMatteo and Anna Gostkowski.

Season Opener: Thursday, home vs. Berlin.

■The Skinny: With the graduation of Emily Hart, the veteran All-Conference setter, it will be a new look this season for Platt — sort of, because the Panthers do return All-CCC South cornerstones in outside hitter Eva Dudley and junior libero Isabella DeMatteo.

Platt also has a pair of returning middles in Olivia Long and Anna Gostkowski. Senior Estrella De La Cruz and junior Jacie Carerro are the emerging players.

“I expect that we field a hardworking and scrappy team this season and that we are competitive againt all competition this year,” said coach Adam Viviano.

The Panthers will again line it up in the CCC South against division rivals Maloney, Berlin, Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, Lewis Mills, Middletown and Plainville.

Maloney■2022: 9-12, Class LL first round.■Key Losses: Peyton Pulaski, Rachael Case, Ashley Case, Lacie Cox and Nadia Berrios.■Key Returners: Seniors Samantha Cicio and Kendall Ferreira, juniors Ava Matias and Keren Crespo.■Key Newcomers: Seniors Celine Cardona and Alexia Hayes; juniors Emma Bacote, Lyric Knight, Natasha Mercedes and Naiomy Rios-Robles; sophomores Alyssa Cox, Myalis Dejesus and DeeDee Highsmith.■Season Opener: Thursday, home vs. Manchester.■The Skinny: The Spartans lost virtually their entire starting rotation on Graduation Day, starting with Peyton Pulaski, the All-CCC South outside hitter who led the team in kills (178) and digs (150).

Ashley Case was second in kills (96). Her partner in the middle, Nadia Berrios, was tops in blocks (35). Lacie Cox was the opposite and Rachael Case the linchpin at setter.

And yet the Spartans fully expect to reload and have another competitive season in 2023. It’s just going to take a village.

They bring back starting libero Samantha Cicio (147 digs, 33 aces) as well as solid all-around players in opposite Ava Matias (73 digs, 45 kills, 36 aces) and outside hitter Keren Crespo (79 digs, 50 kills, team-high 48 aces).

(Another returning senior, Kendall Ferreira, is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered last season.)

Beyond that, it’s the next wave of Spartans rising to the fore. Emma Bacote and Celine Cardona are the emerging setters, Lyric Knight and Alyssa Cox the outside hitters.

In the middle, Maloney will deploy Alexia Hayes, Natasha Mercedes and Naiomy Rios-Robles. Myalis Dejesus and DeeDee Highsmith are defensive specialists.

Maloney joins Platt in the CCC South. The Meriden rivalry matches are Oct. 5 at Platt and Oct. 23.

“We have a tough schedule that will provide us with consistent strong competition,” coach Kevin Savejs assessed. “Our lineup returns only three players who saw significant varsity playing time last season.

“Practices have been very competitive with a focus on coming together as a team,” Savejs added. “It’s one of the more well-rounded teams, with many players expected to see varsity minutes.”

Wilcox Tech■2022: 8-13, Class M first round.■Key Losses: Amarra Cruz.■Key Returners: Seniors Daliely Yum and Nilaika Galloza, junior Alexa Ventura and sophomore Sadie Vernon.■Key Newcomers: Freshmen Madison Donadio and Acelynn Timm.■Season Opener: Friday at Kaynor Tech.■The Skinny: Former player Karina Torres, now a teacher at Wilcox, takes up the coaching reins at her alma mater.

She’s got plenty to work with. While the Wildcats lost an All-Conference player in Amarra Cruz, they bring back a pair of setters in Daliely Yum and Nilaika Galloza as well as a pair of hitters in Alexa Ventura on the outside and Sadie Vernon in the middle.

They also have promising rookies in middle hitter Madison Donadio and setter Acelynn Timm, whose first name certainly seems destined for volleyball fame.

“I'm really looking forward to see us playing with all we've got, and excited to see the girls become more knowledgeable in the sport and improve their overall game,” Torres remarked. “We have a lot of young talent coming in and I'm looking forward to seeing them develop while helping strengthen our program for years to come.  

“The girls really want it this year,” Torres added. “They are ready to learn, ready to try new things. They have come in with such a positive attitude and I can’t wait to see them grow.”

Lyman Hall■2022: 4-16, did not qualify for postseason.■Key Losses: Callie Chordas, Sam Ralston, Alana Peruti, Vivian Pawlowski and Anna Fekieta.■Key Returners: Senior captains Casey Mordecai, Jorja Trocchio and Isabel Karjanis; senior Laiza Fernandes.■Key Newcomers: Senior captain Sophie LaPlante; seniors London Murray-Barron and Julia Cirino; juniors Illana Green, Sandra Niebrzydowski and Natalie Fernandes; sophomores Emily Buzbee and Ava Saez.■Season Opener: Thursday at Hamden.■The Skinny: LH is well-represented in the college ranks by last year’s graduates. Alana Peruti is playing at Husson and Vivian Pawlowski is at St. Joe’s.

With the departure of five seniors, the Trojans now have a lot of holes to fill at the net. The only returning player up front is senior middle Laiza Fernandes.

The senior captains fill key roles: Casey Mordecai at setter, Jorja Trocchio at libero and Isabel Karjanis at defensive specialist.

Fellow senior captain Sophie LaPlante will slot in at outside hitter, while Illana Green and London Murray-Barron at targeted for the middle. Murray-Barron will also work the right side with Julia Cirino. Emily Buzbee and Ava Saez, the two sophomores, are the up-and-coming hitters to watch.

Defensively, the Trojans will lean on Sandra Niebrzydowski and Natalie Fernandes.

Coach Marion Kish sized it all up this way: “This is a close, fun group of players coming back to the court this season. We look forward to watching them grow.”

The Trojans are in the SCC Housatonic with Amity, Branford, Shelton and Wilbur Cross. They are Class L for states.

Sheehan ■2022: 4-16, did not qualify for postseason.■Key Losses: Shannon Murphy, Cece Verna and Lily Bauer.■Key Returners: Seniors Erin Giammattei, Kaitlyn Bailey and Katie Lombino; junior Sarah Beckert.■Key Newcomers: Kylee Wetmore, Madison Westbrook and Autumn Mancini.■Season Opener: Friday at Amistad-New Haven.■The Skinny: The Titans are a young squad under reconstruction. The good news is, they’ve got plenty of building material. Last year’s deep freshman class has been followed by another one.

“I expect another rebuilding season, but we do have players back from injuries and the chemistry on the court is very strong,” remarked coach Victoria Sperrazza.

Sheehan sets sail in the SCC Oronoque with North Haven, Lauralton Hall, Daniel Hand and Hillhouse. The Titans are again Class M for states.


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