For the past four years, the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls volleyball team was all set at setter. With the graduation of All-Conference setter Katlynn McGivney, a four-year varsity starter, that has changed, though.
Sam Rutkowsky, a senior, is SWR’s only setter with any real varsity experience. Junior setter Tesia Roth was brought up from the junior varsity team for the playoffs last year and setter Kamryn Osik played in middle school last fall along with two other freshmen, middle hitter/right-side hitter Kelsey Hughes and outside hitter Dayna Napolitano.
Coach Megan Johnson wasn’t sure whether she would go with a 5-1 system (which employs five hitters and one setter for all six rotations) or a 6-2 (which uses a total of six hitters and two setters, depending on their place in the rotation). She said she would probably alternate between both the two.
As for Rutkowsky, Johnson said: “Sam is the type of kid that every coach would want on their team. She has such a positive outlook on things. She works super hard.”
SWR (7-9) returns five of its top seven players from last year’s team, which lost to Elwood/John Glenn in the Suffolk County Class B semifinals. Among them are a pair of All-League players: senior outside hitter Alyson Mallon and sophomore libero Lauren Halloran.
Mallon has played for an 18-year-old club team as a 16-year-old. “She is a really good outside [hitter],” Johnson said. “She played club for a number of years now. This past year, I feel like her passing has definitely gotten a lot better. She’s an explosive hitter and she just leads the team with a calm, quiet type of energy.”
Halloran, meanwhile, has a knack for making amazing plays, the sort that cause Johnson’s jaw to drop. “Her athleticism baffles me,” Johnson said. “She’s just a super athletic player.”
For more veteran know-how, SWR has senior middle hitter Anna Baumeister, junior middle hitters Kaila Teodoro and Maya Manesis, sophomore outside hitter Paige Alessi and senior outside hitter/right-side hitter Maya Klatsky. Two sophomores, libero Nikki Christine and right-side hitter Ashley Delumen, are new to the team.
“We have a lot of talent and we have a lot of young talent as well,” said Johnson, noting that there will be a transition phase with the setting changes.
Johnson said Alessi’s game had taken off during the club season. “She came back this year and was jumping through the roof, putting balls away,” she said.
It will be the job of the setters to get the ball to her, and McGivney will not be among them.
“It feels weird because she’s been [here] since freshman year so it does seem weird,” Johnson said, “but like I said, Sam is super talented and I’m excited to see her step up and shine.”
Riverhead coach Rose Horton put herself and her 15 players through an exercise. Each person was asked to pick a word to represent herself. Some of the responses: passion, spirit, dedication.
Horton’s word? Grit.
“I just think that’s something important to sports nowadays, not just volleyball,” she said.
If Riverhead (1-13) shows enough grit this season, who knows what it can do for the Blue Waves?
“With the right mindset, I think that this group of girls has the ability to go far,” said Horton.
All-League senior outside hitter Melanie Vail returns along with two other starters, junior libero Kaleigh Seal and junior outside hitter/middle hitter Tristin Jefferson.
Although Riverhead hadn’t named team captains by early Monday, Vail surely plays the part with natural leadership. “She’s always coming to practice on time, she always works hard,” Horton said. “She really sets a nice example.”
More varsity experience is offered by middle hitter/right-side hitter Ravyn Tolliver, outside hitter Elizabeth Dowd and middle hitter Rebecca Bassemir.
A good deal of responsibility, however, will be placed in the hands of a newcomer. Michaela Ligon, a freshman who sat out last season with an injury, will handle the setting along with sophomore Makayla Brown in Riverhead’s 6-2 setup.
“I’m super excited to see her shine on the court,” Horton said of Ligon. “I think she’s going to bring a whole new aspect to our Riverhead volleyball game. I think that if we are able to work with her and she is able to set the girls up the way they need to be set up, then Riverhead will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Also new to the team are: right-side hitter Kate Mowdy, outside hitters Avery Hillis, Salome Baez and Anna Crotty, utility player Sky Hanson, middle hitter/outside hitter Kellia Daniel and libero Jennifer Barrios de Leon.
Horton, entering her second season in charge of the team, said: “I feel a little more comfortable with the program and I think they feel more comfortable with me, which is what everyone wants. The girls are super positive and I feel that the heart is there.”
And perhaps some grit.
Photo caption: All 15 Riverhead players displayed the word they picked to represent themselves. (Credit: Rose Horton courtesy photo)