Rose Horton has traded in Bishop McGann-Mercy green for Riverhead blue, and now the Blue Waves’ new girls volleyball coach has her work cut out for her.
The challenge stands in the form of taking over a team that went 0-14 last year, won only once in the past two years and has a 3-38 record over the last three seasons.
“The way I’m looking at it is there’s nowhere to go but up,” Horton said after distributing new uniforms to her players at the start of Tuesday morning’s practice.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Horton. She had played for Riverhead’s junior varsity team as a freshman before transferring to Mercy and playing for the school’s first girls volleyball team. Later, she became Mercy’s JV coach before spending the last two years as a varsity assistant at the Catholic school, which closed this summer.
Now Horton is back in blue.
“Go Blue Waves!” she said. “I think that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that in quite some time.”
This is an adjustment for Horton, who goes from one of the smallest schools in Suffolk County to the seventh-largest. Whereas Mercy typically had about 20 players try out for the team, Horton had 36 candidates at Riverhead. “The number doesn’t sound that different, but when you have to make those few cuts, it’s a big deal,” she said.
No former Mercy players have joined Horton in the trip across town. Among Riverhead’s most experienced players are senior setter Coco Wharton, junior middle hitter Melanie Vail, senior libero Bridget Tredwell, senior middle hitter Clare Stakey and sophomore outside hitter Tristin Jefferson.
Also back are: senior outside/middle hitter Alexis Polak, junior setter Rebecca Bassemir, senior right-side hitter Hannah Brewer, sophomore libero/right-side hitter Kaleigh Seal, senior outside hitter Shaye-Ann Cassara and sophomore right-side/outside hitter Elizabeth Dowd. Senior outside hitter Kelly Valencia and junior middle hitter Ravyn Tolliver are new to the team along with Jefferson.
“I have seen nothing but smiles on their faces for the past week and a half, which has been really inviting and really welcoming,” Horton said. “I think I’m definitely up for the challenge. What I’ve seen from the girls is a lot of heart. They want to be here and they want to win, but they also want to get better every day.”
What would make Horton happy this fall?
“I think making sure they have smiles on their faces from the moment they step into the gym — whether it’s game day or practice day — to the moment that they leave,” she said. “That’s really, really important to me. I want them to have fun and I want them to learn. If they’re leaving everything out on the court, win or lose, I’m a happy coach.”
Like a well-known insurance commercial, Shoreham-Wading River (7-8) is in good hands with Katlynn McGivney, the good-hands girl. The All-League setter plays a big part in SWR’s plans for this season.
“She’s just a natural leader,” coach Megan Johnson said. “She’s a huge component of our team.”
McGivney, two other seniors, right-side hitter Brianna Huebner and middle/right-side hitter Kendall Pluschau, and a sophomore, middle hitter Kaila Teodoro, lead the Wildcats into the new season.
Last year Shoreham reached the playoffs a third straight year, falling to Kings Park in the Suffolk County Class A quarterfinals.
This year SWR is counting on the players named above and three fellow returners — junior setter Samantha Rutkowsky, junior outside hitter Alyson Mallon and junior middle hitter Anna Baumeister — to show the way for the newcomers. That group consists of outside hitters Sarah Sheridan, Maya Klatsky and Paige Alessi, liberos Jessica Hitz and Lauren Halloran, and middle hitter Maya Manesis.
“This year we have a lot of new faces,” Johnson said. “We pulled up two freshmen. We have a couple of sophomores. Last year there was a lot of veteran players. We have a lot of talent. There’s a lot of talent across the board.”
Because of declining enrollment, SWR has dropped from Class A to Class B and moved down a league to League VII, where it will compete with Bayport-Blue Point, Elwood/John Glenn, Mount Sinai, Southampton and Hampton Bays.
“I think the key is going to build that chemistry with our new players,” Johnson said. “No matter how we play, there’s going to be new faces in our starting lineup, so building that chemistry is going to be the decisive factor.”
Photo caption: Senior setter Coco Wharton is among Riverhead’s most experienced players. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)