When it comes to going vertical, there aren’t many people who can top Rickie Casazza.
Volleyball is a natural for Casazza, who is 5-11, but has high jumped 6-4 in track and field. The other day Casazza checked to see what his vertical leap is. “I measured 36 inches,” he said.
Add his fine hitting technique to the mix, and Casazza brings a fearsome presence to the net for Shoreham-Wading River High School.
“He can jump over a house,” SWR setter Joey Brown said. “It’s ridiculous … You put [a set] up there and you know something good’s going to happen.”
Casazza is a force, despite being a relative newcomer to the sport. He has never played travel ball. The senior outside hitter was an All-County player last year, his first on the team. Aside from that, his only other volleyball experience was one year as an eighth-grader in middle school.
“Volleyball players, to get good, you need to hit a thousand balls,” coach Paul Anderson said. “Rickie probably hasn’t hit a thousand balls yet, even in two years, and he has still picked it up that quick. He’s on the incline.”
Great footwork and nice technique lead to Casazza’s lethal swing, which is helping SWR this season.
This is the strongest SWR team Brown has seen in his four years on the team. “We’re definitely the best we’ve seen in a while,” he said. “We should have a great season.”
Anderson will not argue that point. “This is the year for us to step up,” said the coach.
“We can contend with any team in the league, I think,” Casazza said. “We’ve realized that by now.”
SWR last made the playoffs in 2009 when the team reached a county final against Eastport-South Manor, according to Anderson.
“They’re competitive,” he said of his players. “They’re athletes. I’ve got guys that are athletic, and they’re athletes, they’re multi-sport athletes, and that’s big. I’ve got lacrosse players. I’ve got baseball players. I’ve got like six track guys.”
That includes Casazza, who evidently has the confidence to match his athleticism.
“Rickie believes he can do anything,” Anderson said. “You never tell Rickie no. It’s always yes, he could do it.”
SWR faced a test Monday, losing to visiting Bay Shore, 25-23, 25-16, 25-14, despite 10 kills from Casazza and 18 assists from Brown, a senior who was an All-County honorable mention player last year. They were joined in the starting lineup by Brian Drost, Seth Mohl, Brandon Safranek and Calvin Schmalzle.
Bay Shore (3-1, 2-1 Suffolk County Division I) proved to be a tough opponent, not making many mistakes. The Marauders brought 23 kills worth of firepower spread out among 11 players. Joe Trifoli (10) and Brian Giuliani combined for 19 assists.
SWR’s best chance of taking a set came in the first one. Four hitting errors by Bay Shore over a six-point span enabled SWR (1-2, 1-2) to tie the score at 22-22. But Bay Shore finished off the set, with a dink by Nick Russo bringing in the 25th point.
SWR’s only lead of the match came when Will Jantzen opened the second set with a dink.
Casazza said he is a better high jumper than volleyball player, but playing volleyball is more fun.
And the best thing about volleyball?
That’s easy, slamming the ball down for a kill.
“It’s the best feeling in the world. I love it,” Casazza said. “It’s comparable to jumping over a high-jump bar.”
He should know.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River players shake hands with their opponents from Bay Shore following Monday’s match. (Credit: Bob Liepa)