GIRLS VOLLEYBALL 2021: Masked up for a full adventure



MERIDEN — The masked marvels are back.

The 2021 girls volleyball season, which opens Thursday, should look much like the 2020 campaign. The girls will again be playing in masks. The girls should again amass a lot of wins.

“Although we were hoping to go in to this season without having to wear masks, the reality of the situation is that this is the best decision to keep the players and coaches safe,” said Platt coach Adam Viviano. “The players are excited to have the opportunity to play a full season this year, even with the masks.”

Indeed, a full season. We’re back to a full 20-match regular season without regional “pod” play, followed by a state tournament.

That’s a plus. Typically, every area squad qualifies.

“While wearing masks while we play presents its own set of challenges, we are fortunate to be able to have a regular season with playoffs, something that seniors last year were not as lucky to have,” noted Maloney coach Kevin Savejs. “We had a strong team last season and while it was great to get the chance to compete in any way, it was tough not being able to see how we would have fared against the best teams in the state tournament. We look forward to that opportunity this season.”

Here’s how the 2021 prospects shape up for each area club.

Platt

The Panthers are coming off a 12-1 season in their first campaign with Viviano. They were champions of Region D in the Central Connecticut Conference.

Some big weapons were lost from that squad. Platt graduated leading hitters Aaliyah Burnley, Jazmir Hudson and Victoria Talento, along with defensive specialists Ashlee Long and Madeline Germe.

The Panthers do bring back junior setter Emily Hart and sophomore middle blocker Eva Dudley. Hart, an All-Record-Journal selection, put up 217 assists and 88 service aces.

Platt has a pair of promising newcomers in freshmen Isabella DeMatteo and Anna Gostowski

“I expect our team to be very competitive this year,” Viviano said. “Despite losing a large chunk of the starting roster from last year, we always have players that are ready and able to fill their shoes.

“I am very pleased with the level of play I have seen at practice so far and I am excited to keep working with the team to get even better.”

Platt opens at Farmington on Thursday. The home opener is Monday vs. East Catholic.

The rivalry dates with Maloney are Sept. 24 at Platt and Oct. 25 at Maloney.

Maloney

You think the Spartans will be fired up for those rivalry matches? At 12-2, they finished second to Platt last year in CCC Region D. The teams split in the regular season before Platt won the title tilt.

The East Siders graduated key players in Lauren Matias, Kelsey Drost, Taylor Trowbridge, Elizabeth Barton and Milytza Perez.

However, they bring back plenty, headed by R-J Player of the Year Savannah Bernabucci, a senior outside hitter who was All-State Class L as a junior.

Also returning for the Spartans are setter Gracey Massicotte, outside hitter Xarianna Perez, middle hitters Selena Galvan and Camila Guerrero, libero Stephanie Cicio and opposite/defensive specialist Jylosdet Davila.

All of those girls are seniors. Also back is junior setter Rachael Case.

A handful of juniors hitters are stepping up to bigger varsity roles: Lacie Cox, Ashley Case, Peyton Pulaski and Nadia Berrios. Outside hitter Kendall Ferreira and defensive specialist Samantha Cicio, both sophomores, are also on the rise.

“Returning many experienced and seasoned players from last year's pandemic-shortened season, expectations are high,” Savejs said. “We have a solid group of returning players who are surrounded by players ready to step up to fill the roles of those who graduated last year. We look to build upon what we did last season and look forward to getting back to a normal game schedule.

“We are blessed with a deep bench of varsity-level players ready for any opportunity they have to play the game. Practices have been very competitive and players are pushing each other to get better every time they step on the court.”

The Spartans open at Rocky Hill on Thursday. They host Windsor on Monday and Cheshire on Tuesday.

Cheshire

Amid the upheaval of 2020, the Rams enjoyed another stellar season under coach Sue Bavone, who enters her 28th season with a career mark of 540-97.

Last fall, Cheshire went 13-1 and won SCC Division B. Bavone was named SCC Coach of the Year and setter Sarah Holley was the Player of the Year. Holley also made All-State Class LL.

Cheshire graduated Holley, along with middle blocker Hannah Portal and opposite Alenna Zebarth, but they return four strong players in outside hitters Jenna Stickney and Avery Mola, libero Tori Santi and opposite Elena Lilback.

Mola, a junior, is coming off an All-SCC and All-RJ sophomore season in which she put down 101 kills and 26 aces.

Stickney and Lilback, both seniors, had almost identical numbers — Stickney 48 kills, Lilback 49, with 17 aces apiece.

Santi, All-SCC and All-RJ last year as a junior, collected 87 digs.

Also back is senior middle Tess Givens, whose junior campaign was lost to shoulder surgery.

A pair of juniors join the outside ranks, Alex Lucas and southpaw Taryn Ugrin. Another junior, Amelia Perlini, gives Bavone options with her multi-position versatility.

“We have a good number of players returning who had a considerable amount of playing time on varsity last year, so we are excited to build on that experience with some talented juniors coming up from our very successful JV team," Bavone said. “The team is excited to be able to get the opportunity to compete in a conference and state tournament this season.”

First up is a home date with Sheehan on Thursday, then next Tuesday’s road trip to Maloney.

Southington

Rich Heitz (332-105) enters his 21st season at the helm of the Blue Knights guiding a young team coming off a 7-7 season.

Southington is young, though not necessarily inexperienced.

Captain/outside hitter Morgan Birdsey is the lone senior. She will be bookended by 5-foot-10 outside hitter Adriana Palmieri, who started last year as a sophomore and looks to have a breakout season as a junior.

Another returning junior, Emma Pfanzelt, is an athletic player who provides options. At various times last fall, she suited up at libero, defensive specialist and outside hitter.

Jackie Dobransky, a 6-foot-3 junior who enjoyed a strong summer on the club circuit, moves from the right side to the middle to replace some of the production of All-State Class LL player Rachel Possidento. The two-time All-RJ selection is now playing at the University of New England.

Junior Haley Weiner is a dynamic setter who looks to step in and fully lead the offense. Gabriella Ferriera, though only a sophomore, is a returning starter. She will anchor the right side. Fellow sophomore Cami Wessels will start as a second middle hitter.

Southington generally has a strong serving team and Weiner is much improved at setter after playing varsity last season as a sophomore. Heitz did say the Blue Knights will need to earn points at a higher rate from the outside to be successful.

“We will also need to replace some of the defensive end of the ball with the graduation of libero Kaley Smith,” the veteran coach added.

Southington opens against three powerhouses: at 2019 Class L champ Avon on Thursday, home against 2019 Class LL champ Trumbull on Friday, home against four-time defending Central Connecticut Conference champ RHAM on Monday.

Lyman Hall

The Trojans are coming off a 7-5 season and they bid farewell to a number of key players who shaped it: Ellery Campbell, Gianna Scoppetto, Macenzie Regan and Katie Madow.

Scoppetto, the setter, and Campbell, an outside hitter, were All-SCC and All-RJ selections. So was Mackenize Grady, for a second season.

Now in her senior year, Grady returns as Lyman Hall’s top hitter and its team captain.

Middle hitter Sophia Donath and libero Keera Reed join Grady as senior captains.

Moving up the ladder are junior Callie Chordas and seniors Kaylee Salas and Shakira Villanueva.

“This season we expect to be a contender, with key returners and very promising newcomers,” said Lyman Hall coach Marion Kish.

The Trojans have three road matches, starting Thursday at Amity, before playing at home on Sept. 17 against Daniel Hand.

The rivalry matches with Sheehan are Sept. 20 at LH and Oct. 12 on Hope Hill Road.

Sheehan

The Titans were 7-7 last season and have since lost program veterans Emily Jockle, Caitlyn Hunt, Lydia Dellipoali and Gretchen Seibt to graduation.

Hunt, Dellipaoli and Jockle were All-SCC and All-RJ. Hunt was an All-RJ volleyball player three times.

So who’s back? A bevy of seniors: outside hitters Madison Dipasquale and Jayna Mackenzie, middle hitter Colleen Kelley, right-side hitter Elaine Tolentino and libero Emma Smith. Defensive specialist Shannon Murphy returns for her junior campaign.

Promising newcomers are senior middle Mackenzie Warmoth and freshman setter Sarah Beckert.

“Our goal every season is to make the state tournament,” said coach Victoria Sperrazza. “We lost five key players and have eight seniors this season. There are big shoes to fill and it will be a rebuilding year, but we have high expectations for success with what feels like a brand new team.”



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