As a student teacher last year at Pulaski Street Elementary School, Kristin Andrejack got the opportunity to work alongside varsity volleyball coach Amy Greene and assist her former team. Andrejack, a 2010 Riverhead graduate, will step into a bigger role this year as the team’s head coach.
After Greene stepped down, she recommended Andrejack be appointed the new coach.
“It was an incredible experience for me,” Andrejack said of helping the team last year. “I had a chance to get my feet wet last year with coach Greene and I was thrilled and honored.”
Andrejack said it was a surreal experience coming back into the gym where she used to play, albeit a nicer looking gym after recent renovations.
“Seeing the girls wear the same jerseys, it brings you back to the great memories that you had in your own high school experience,” she said.
Andrejack takes over a team that will feature some new faces in the lineup after most of the starters from a year ago graduated. Most notably among that group was Joscelin Morrow, the team’s standout libero who now plays for Georgia Southern University.
Stepping into those big shoes will be Jess Freeborn, who got the chance to learn under Morrow last year.
“This year she’s stepping up,” Andrejack said. “We have pretty high expectations for her and she’s come ready for the challenge this year.”
The Blue Waves also return 6-foot-1 senior Dezarae Brown, who will be the key player in the middle. Kaitlyn Keane returns at setter.
The season came at the Blue Waves quickly. Andrejack said about 40 kids came out for the team and tryouts went on longer than expected. The team had to play its first non-league game after only a handful of practices and wound up losing to Bellport, 3-0, on Thursday.
“We’ve generally been focusing on defense first at the moment,” Andrejack said.
Olivia Dickerson will play on the outside and Julia Pizzuto is a right-side hitter. Both girls have been playing on a club team in the offseason, Andrejack said.
The number of girls playing volleyball outside the school season has been one of the biggest differences Andrejack has seen from her days playing to now.
“It shows tremendously in the way they play for the school season,” she said.
Bumping up a league and facing the tougher competition that comes with it could be viewed as a detriment for the Bishop McGann-Mercy volleyball team. The Monarchs narrowly missed a playoff spot a year ago with a 5-7 record in League VIII.
Mercy coach Jamie Calandro views the challenge as an opportunity.
“I’m actually kind of happy we moved up,” Calandro said. “The girls have been notorious for playing up to opponents. They understand they have to do that all game.”
With a schedule that includes Mattituck, Babylon and Bayport-Blue Point, the Monarchs will have plenty of teams to get up for this year. The good news is the team returns most of its core from last year. The bad news is the players who graduated from last year happened to be the team’s tallest players.
So height will not be on their side this season.
“We’ve kind of had to adjust, focusing a little bit more on the attack rather than defense with blocking,” Calandro said. “We’ve been focusing a lot more on the outside attack where our strongest hitters are.”
One of those hitters is Alex Keelan, a senior captain. The Monarchs will look for their junior setter, Mia Behrens, to be the key player getting the ball to the hitters. Behrens had a strong season last year, earning League VIII Rookie of the Year honors. Calandro said Behrens set a school record for assists last year.
“She’s very, very smart and very athletic,” Calandro said. “She’s an all-league point guard as well. She understands the idea of setting up the offense and leading the offense and making quick decisions.”
Another returning player, senior Kelsey Tuthill will play middle hitter. Tuthill and Behrens will both be key on the serve, Calandro said.
Senior Lauren Ford will anchor the defense by playing libero. Junior Kathleen Dewitt will line up at outside hitter. Kate Sarich also returns in the middle.
The Monarchs will open the season Wednesday at Babylon and will play their first home match Thursday against Southampton.