BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Stacy Griffing bumped a ball during a Riverhead practice while, from left, Amber Brewer, Megan Brewer, Fatima Brown, Alyssa Meyer and Brianna Gillian watched.
With only one returning starter and not much playing experience, the Riverhead High School girls volleyball team might not seem a likely prospect for the playoffs, but that is not how the team’s coach is thinking.
“I expect it every year, so yes, I expect to get into the playoffs,” said Kor-te, who guided the Blue Waves to the playoffs in 2009 in his first year as the team’s coach. They lost to Connetquot in the first round.
“We’re looking to take it a step further,” Korte said. “As a coach, I want to push further in the playoffs this year. Settling for losing in the first round of the playoffs is not something to strive for.”
Last year’s 12-6 team had more height. This year’s squad will need to rely more on accurate passing, sound defense and avoiding unforced errors.
Brianna Gillian, a senior middle hitter, is the only starter who is back. The other five returners are all seniors: right-side hitter Jamilyn Marsh, middle hitter Danielle McCabe, outside hitters Stacy Griffing and Emily Groneman and setter Courtney Rheaume.
Alyssa Meyer and Kiana Wiwczar will also share in the setting. Right-side hitter Mariah Messina, middle hitter Fatima Brown, middle hitter/left-side hitter Megan Brewer and outside hitters Amber Brewer and Sam Welch are also new additions.
Aside from Gillian, the other Blue Waves didn’t see much playing time last season.
“We lost most of our starters from last year, so there are going to be a few key people that have to step up,” Korte said. “I’m excited to see how they do.”
Smithtown West, last year’s League IV champion, has moved up to League III. That should make life a little easier for Riverhead, but it will still have to contend with the likes of Bellport, Copiague and Half Hollow Hills.
“I think we’ve got a very good shot of getting in the playoffs, even though we have a lack of experience,” Korte said. “I would say the season would be a success making it to the playoffs while having fun playing volleyball. The girls really need to make sure they enjoy every minute out there.”
What members of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (1-15 last year) did over the summer could have a big impact on what they do this fall.
Most of the Monarchs attended a volleyball camp at the University of Connecticut, and McGann-Mercy Coach Jamie Calandro saw instant results in preseason practice. He said players came into the preseason in mid-season form with a good deal of enthusiasm as well as a number of cheers and chants they picked up at the camp. “The spirit was really infectious,” said Calandro.
Two juniors, outside hitter Kaylin Hammond and middle hitter Mairead Glynn, were starters last year and will serve as co-captains. Varsity experience is also offered by junior libero Alexa Klink, junior outside hitter Anna Crowley, sophomore setter Kaylee Navarra and senior middle hitter Veronica Turowski.
The rest of the team consists of juniors except for sophomore setter Marisa Balbo. Elizabeth Hartmann is an outside hitter while Catherine Kober and Brianna Pivirotto are both middle hitters. Calandro was undecided as to what positions Shannon Nunez, Brittany Wright, Brittany De Gennaro and Kate Lechleider will play.
Calandro, who has coached the Monarchs since they joined the varsity level in 2007, said the camp experience seems to have given his players a shot of confidence, something he sensed was lacking the last three years.
“I can see their confidence level is very high,” he said. “I could tell that they were intimidated a little the last three years.”
Because of the team’s youth (Turowski is the sole senior), the bulk of the team will remain intact for a couple of years.
If nothing else, the experience of the past three one-win seasons, when the team went 3-43, has shown the Monarchs that winning does not come easily. “We went to five games so much last year and they just kind of tired out,” said Calandro.
Now the Monarchs find themselves in a position in which they believe they can be more competitive.
“This year we look like we’re ready to compete for the playoffs,” Calandro said. “Playoffs is the ultimate goal, but winning multiple matches would show dramatic improvement.”
The Monarchs are eager to play on their new gym floor and put what they learned in camp to use. Calandro said, “They already wish [the season started] so they can show what they accomplished.”