Amy Bullock has already brought back bad memories to opposing coaches.
Bullock (Class of 2003) was one of the best volleyball players to ever come out of Riverhead High School. As a hard-swinging middle hitter with springs in her feet, Bullock was a four-year varsity player for the Blue Waves, and the Suffolk County player of the year as a senior.
She was converted to an outside hitter at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she became a rookie of the year and all-conference first team player.
Now Bullock is back in Riverhead, this time as coach of the varsity team she used to play for. Coaches from other teams haven’t forgotten her, either. Bullock said they tell her, “I remember you; you’re the one who always gave us trouble.”
Now Bullock hopes her team gives opponents trouble this season.
The Blue Waves (6-9 last year) are coming off a season in which the team’s former coach, James Korte, guided them to the playoffs. They lost to the Smithtown East Bulls, 25-15, 25-15, 25-9, in the first round of the Suffolk Class AA Tournament.
Five players graduated from that team, but the Blue Waves still have four returning starters who are ready for their senior season: outside hitter Mariah Messina, middle hitter Fatima Brown, right-side hitter Kiana Wiwczar and setter Alyssa Meyer. Messina made the academic all-county team.
In addition, outside hitter Amber Brewer and middle hitter Megan Brewer are varsity veterans as well.
Middle hitter Megan Conroy, libero Rebecca Lessard, setter Sara Tucci, right-side hitter Allison Fox, outside hitter Danielle Thomas and middle hitter Hali Marten complete the squad.
Not all of those players are immediately available, though. Messina will be out for two weeks with mononucleosis, and Brewer will be out for about a week with a thumb injury, said Bullock.
Bullock, who has coached the junior varsity team the past two years, likes what she has seen.
“They are a pleasure to work with, on and off the court,” she said. “They come to practice and they work hard. … The dedication and hard work that these girls give when they come in the gym every day is amazing.”
Bullock said the Blue Waves need to work on their defense, but she said she is enthused by the work ethic of the players.
“Every day when I walk into that gym, it puts a smile on my face,” she said. “I push them to the limit because I know that they can do it.”
The early signs are encouraging for the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (3-11). For one thing, it helps when five of six starters return. It’s also an indication that things are headed in the right direction for the Monarchs that 43 players tried out for the varsity and junior varsity teams.
“People had to really earn their spots,” said Coach Jamie Calandro, who had made it clear during the tryout phase that no roster spots were guaranteed.
In the end, Calandro retained 10 players, which he said is a good number to work with for the varsity squad. “I’m not going to have anybody sitting on the bench for any length of time,” he said.
Calandro said the five returning starters — outside hitters Mairead Glynn and Kaylin Hammond, middle hitter Elizabeth Hartmann, setter Kaylee Navarra and opposite hitter Anna Crowley — will remain in the starting lineup. They are all seniors except for Navarra, a junior. Hammond was an all-league player last year.
Not only that, but middle hitter Shannon Nunez, libero Alexa Klink, and middle hitter Marisa Balbo also offer prior varsity experience.
The only new additions are outside hitter Caitlyn Walsh and opposite hitter Fiona Nunez, who is Shannon’s sister.
The Monarchs have never qualified for the playoffs in their five-year varsity history, during which time they have gone 6-54, but perhaps they made be able to change that this year.
“I think this year is the year we’re capable of making playoffs,” Calandro said. “It’s been a long experience with a couple of more wins every year. … They finally feel like they’re one of the teams to beat.”