The key to the Riverhead volleyball team this season starts with defense. And the defense starts with junior Joscelin Morrow.
Last year, as a sophomore playing libero, Morrow was a spark plug for the Blue Waves, who finished the year with all-league honors. She was also named the League IV Rookie of the Year.
“Defensively, she’s everything on the court,” said Riverhead coach Amy Greene. “She’s been playing for so long. She’s loud and aggressive. We’re going to rely on her definitely in the back row.”
In Monday’s non-league opener at home against Shelter Island, Morrow picked up right where she left off last year by recording 30 digs in the Blue Waves’ win.
As the Blue Waves’ defense improves, Greene said the focus is turning more of those digs into points.
The Blue Waves return a lot of experience around Morrow. Senior outside hitters Hali Martens and Danielle Thomas will provide a lot of the scoring. Senior Sara Tucci returns at setter for her third year.
Seniors Megan Brewer and Allison Fox both return as hitters as well. Junior Joanna Messina returns as a hitter/setter.
The Blue Waves will feature a newcomer in the middle in sophomore Dezarea Brown, who has already made a name for herself playing basketball and running track last year. A relative newcomer to volleyball, Brown will provide a big presence at middle hitter.
The Blue Waves came up short of the playoffs last year and have their sights set on making it this year.
“There’s a lot of energy on the court with everybody returning,” Greene said.
At Shoreham-Wading River, the Wildcats will feature a balanced roster that includes a freshman, four sophomores, four juniors and four seniors.
Oh, and one seventh-grader.
Taylor Morrell, who’s only 12, will make the bold leap to varsity this season and coach Katherine Winkler said the young girl is more than ready to handle the competition.
Morrell’s older sister played briefly at Shoreham before transferring to St. Anthony’s. Winkler said Morrell came down to an open gym practice during the offseason with her sister and instantly impressed the coaches.
Morrell will start the season as the libero.
“She’s going to become such a tremendous player,” Winkler said. “She’s just going to get better and better.”
The Wildcats return some experience in seniors Kelly Dillon (middle), Alyssa Filangeri (right side), Madison Hubner (right side/outside) and Toryn Cairo (outside). All four players are the captains. Dillon is a three-year varsity player.
Sophomores Cristina Iannacchino (outside) and Hailey Wehr (middle) are both returning players as well.
Freshman Sophia Triandafils, who played varsity lacrosse last spring, will start at setter.
“They’re very young, but the thing is they’re extremely talented,” Winkler said.
After advancing into the Class C playoffs last year, the McGann-Mercy Monarchs return a mostly new group this year, a theme that goes for most teams in their league.
The success the team had last year has the girls excited to pick up where last year’s group left off.
“They’re all friends, they talk volleyball on the side,” said Mercy coach Jamie Calandro. “They really have high hopes for this season that we’re going to take it even further than last year.”
Senior captain Fiona Nunez is one of the few returning players who saw a lot of action last year. The Monarchs will rely on her in the middle to be the team’s main hitter.
Seniors Amanda Blacknik (middle) and Kate Lewis (outside) will serve as captains as well.
The Monarchs will also feature seniors Katie Nolan (outside) and Anna Svandidze (outside/opposite). Senior Regina Viola will play setter and senior Rachel klink will play libero.
Viola takes over at setter after the Monarchs lost their all-county setter to graduation. Viola played as the JV setter last year.
“The chemistry is very good,” Calandro said.
One advantage this year for the Monarchs is that they have some height this year, Calandro said.
“We have a much stronger attack and a lot more height,” he said.
Juniors Kassandra Barty (outside) and Emily St. Louis (middle) are the only non-seniors on the team.
Mercy will open the season with a challenging non-league match Thursday against Babylon.