Today we take a look at each of the three divisions in volleyball as our first year of coverage continues to get off the ground.
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Beginning next week Austin Grass will have a weekly Thursday Thoughts column previewing the biggest games around the state.
Today we wanted to take a look at each of the three divisions with team previews based on our conversations with the head coaches.
This weekend we will have coverage of two games:
Tonight Austin Grass & Jennifer Chick-Ruth will bring you all the highlights and the post-game interview with the entire winning team when Bishop Guertin travels to Hollis-Brookline.
On Saturday Jennifer Chick-Ruth and I will be in Durham when Oyster River hosts Portsmouth.
Previews were written by Lance Legere
Coming off of a rebuilding season last year, Bedford Bulldogs head coach Anna McGann is ready for her team to make some noise. “Expect us to come out and compete.”
The Bulldogs took defending champion Nashua South to five sets in the playoffs, only losing by 2. That gave McGann a lot of confidence about her group coming back this season.
“Our sophomores and juniors were the key for our team last year.” With an extra year of experience under their belt, Bedford is primed for a huge improvement.
Due to not being able to get into the gym right off, Bedford didn’t finalize their roster until just last week. Although tryouts were a bit different this year, the Bulldogs did their best to practice without having access to facilities. “How can we get outside? This was the main concern for my team when we heard we wouldn’t be able to get into the gym,” said McGann.
A regionalized schedule won’t be affecting much for Bedford.
“We’ve played these teams, our mindset is to compete at the highest level possible. My direction as a coach and the direction of my players won’t change either,” said McGann. With a seasoned group of upperclassmen, the Bulldogs look to take the leap this season.
After a school-best 15-6 regular season, the Winnacunnet Warriors are ready for a repeat performance this year. Head coach Ben Molnar has been impressed with his group early on. “The girls are extremely excited to be back in the gym.”
A semifinal appearance was a huge accomplishment for the Warriors. The team will be without 5 key seniors, including two outsides in Emily Miller and Audrey Simmons. “Losing Emily and Audrey is difficult, but Claire Simmons will help lead the way,” said Molnar.
The junior starting setter returns and is primed for a breakout season. Molnar feels his team will have to win as one to get favorable results this year. “We have to be focused as a unit to be successful.”
The Warriors want to play their brand of volleyball from start to finish with a buy-in on the defensive side and a strong approach at the serving line, an approach Molnar feels his group can succeed with. “I think as a coach you have to identify what your team is, we figured out our identity, you can’t force anything that isn’t there.”
A rare second-round exit last season has the Hollis-Brookline Cavaliers ready for redemption. Head coach Becky Balfour has had very talented teams, but this one seems to be one of her favorites. “This is one of the tightest groups, the chemistry is off the hook.”
Only 3 starters return for the Cavaliers, but there are a variety of players who will step into key roles this season. Hannah Close is one of the best players Balfour has had the chance to coach. “She is just a fierce leader on and off the court. I always ask myself, is there anything that girl can’t do?” Close is a force at the line and is a great help on defense.
Jess Cooper will step in as the starting libero this season. “If she was at any D1 program last year she would have started, she has been amazing to start the season,” said Balfour. Cooper has had lots of time to work on her game, and now she will get to show it this year.
Angelina Leonard had a tremendous regular season last year until she was forced to miss the playoffs with an injury. “She is a fantastic player, leader, you name it.”
The Cavaliers have not one, but two starting quality setters on their roster. Sophomore Sophie Jordan filled in for the injured Leonard in the playoffs and turned a lot of heads in the process.
During their quarterfinal matchup, Jordan registered a school record 54 assists. “Both Sophie and Angelina will contribute this season,” said Balfour.
Basketball standout Shai Colbert will be a full-time starter this year and sisters Emily and Sarah Dryer will be relied on heavily. The Dryer sisters will be dedicating this season to their mother who lost her hard-fought battle with multiple myeloma.
Before last seasons quarterfinal lose to Portsmouth, Hollis-Brookline had won 5 consecutive Division I titles. “Having a deep team like this helps so much,” said Balfour. With a talented roster, the Cavaliers will look to carry on their winning tradition.
After a 16-2 regular season and an abrupt quarterfinal exit to Dover, the Pinkerton Astros look at the 2020-2021 season as a chance to improve as a whole. Head coach Todd Royce has seen great things from his returning squad thus far. “I am hopeful we can do well this season.”
The loss of first-team all-stater Ella Dandrade will hurt, but Royce is excited about what his five returning starters can do this year. Siera Edgecum, Lilly Haywood, Ella Cobb, Rese Aslin, and Sarah Taylor all will play key roles for the Astros this year.
Experience will guide this team on the right path.
Pinkerton is always atop the standings, and they will hope to continue that trend this season. “I have a bunch of hard workers, that's how Pinkerton survives in this. They improve from season to season, and that's because we have great kids,” said Royce.
The Keene Blackbirds return a young core who will look to grow upon the strides they made in a rebuilding season a year ago. Gabby Arig returns for her 4th season at the helm and is anticipating great things for her team. “I have a bunch of gym rats and I think we have the pieces to make a really strong run.”
The “big-gun,” as stated by Arig, returning from last season is sophomore Lily Piernunnzy. “She’s got a great block upfront.” Piernunnzy led the team in aces and kills last season and looks to have an even greater season than last.
Juniors Miranda Salema and Febe Rigg return with experience and talent to help lead this Blackbird squad. Salema is the team's best defender. “She can jump out of the gym,” said Arig. The outside hitter will look to lead with her play and bring a defensive tenacity that can help Keene win games.
Rigg had a total of 50 last year. “She is big and physical. She has an outstanding block and great range as a hitter,” said Arig.
Freshman Gwynneth Norman is new to the scene of volleyball, but she has impressed many to start the season. Norman stands at 5’11” and has had a tremendous work ethic early on.
Arig feels she has a group that is willing to do anything to be successful. “Trying to add new wrinkles will be easier to do, they want to challenge themselves.” Keene is hoping their hard work will translate into victories this season.
After a late-season surge found the Exeter Blue Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, head coach Kate Simmons hopes the momentum can carry over to begin this season. “Everyone is really excited to be back in the gym.
With the losses of setter Sam Wiberg and outside hitter Katie Nicholson, the starting lineup will look a bit different this year, but with a senior-laden group, Exeter looks to be competitive from the get-go. “I feel like I have 12 starters on my roster,” said Simmons.
The one lingering issue for Exeter last year was closing out games. “We have to make an effort to play from start to finish,” said Simmons. These seniors on the roster have been through the wringer and will have to lead this team late in games.
Ava Melesio will step in for Wiberg at the setter position and looks primed for a big season leading the offense. “It’s her time to shine,” said Simmons.
Helping Melesio on the outsides will be Grace Kelly and Dand Whistleman. “They’re both such forces on the court. They always try and out-power each other,” said Simmons.
With labario Claire Buarla and middle Hazel Brown rounding things out for the Blue Hawks, Simmons feels her group can do great things this year. “I feel really lucky to have the crew I have right now. I’ve been with them since they were in 8th grade. They can all play with each other, which makes it so hard to make a lineup.” This may be a good problem for Simmons to have, as she has a variety of options to throw atopponents.
The one lingering issue for Exeter last year was closing out games. “We have to make an effort to play from start to finish,” said Simmons. These seniors on the roster have been through the ringer, and will have to lead this team late in games.
With everything coming together, and an emphasis on closing out games, look for the Blue Hawks to compete late into the year.
Previews were written by Dave Haley (Gilford and Oyster River), Austin Grass (Coe-Brown) and Lance Legere (St Thomas)
The defending champion Gilford Golden Eagles don’t rebuild they re-load.
2020 won’t be any different for head coach Amy Tripp’s team after losing seven players off last year’s team. Three seniors lead a very talented group of underclassman in pursuit of the program’s 3rd straight Division II title.
“We have a really focused group and it’s never about looking ahead but executing the next play,” said Tripp who was Hall of Fame head coach Joan Forge’s assistant coach since 1994 and took over the program in 2018. “That's a mindset we have had as a program for some time. We consider it a privilege to be playing this season and the girls' attitudes from day to day have been really good.”
Senior outside hitter Lindsey Sanderson is set for an all-state season and is joined in the lineup by fellow seniors Serena Pugh (outside hitter) and Collista Shepard.
Ashley Sanderson serves as the team’s back row specialist while setter Riley McDonough has played very well in Gilford’s 4-0 start. “Riley has been very good for us,” said Tripp. “She’s very passionate about the game and has a really effective jump serve.”
Starter Kate Sullivan has the total confidence of her head coach (“ Kate does a great job and is a huge part of our team chemistry.”) while former prep school transfer Harper Meehan will step right in and contribute. “We have brought Harper along slowly but she’s been improving by the week. She’s a very good athlete and a good addition to our team.”
Because of the new regionalized schedule, Gilford won’t be facing Division II rivals like Coe-Brown, Oyster River, and John Stark.
Tripp though doesn't see the schedule change as having any effect on how prepared Gilford will be when the playoffs roll around. “It’s not a concern right now. We understand what level we have to be at to compete with the best teams in the division and it’s on us to get to that level over the course of the regular season.”
Going into the 2020 season Oyster River head coach Cassandra Sweatt questioned whether her team of mostly underclassmen was going to be ready to compete against a regionalized schedule made up largely of Division I teams.
A 3-1 start seems to affirm that they can indeed play with their bigger neighbors.
“We didn’t have a choice but to be ready to play from Day 1,” said Sweatt. “We opened against a really good Dover team and after a slow start, the girls really came together. We’ve been able to build off that and the focus is on getting better every day.”
Seniors Maggie Sylvester, Hailey Davis, and Ella Cavicchi have all gotten off to strong starts as players like freshman Ella Cavicchi gain experience against a schedule that has seen them play three of their four games against Division I teams.
“Maggie has been great for us and she will get her 500th kill this weekend when we face Portsmouth,” said Sweatt. “The three seniors have been with me for four years so they know exactly where to be on the court and they’ve taken on the leadership role with the underclassman.”
“Emelia had an opportunity early on against Dover and made the most of it when she got into the game,” said Sweatt of her freshman. “The chemistry she has on the court with her sister is evident. She’s been really good for us.”
Junior Kim Gowell is emerging as the Bobcats' best offensive player. “She’s really grown and matured a lot. When she is playing at her best she has a big effect on the game.”
Margeaux Burnham might be the team’s most versatile player and has also gotten off to a strong start to this season. “Margeaux is very smart and can play all over for us,” said Sweatt. “She’s a player I can always trust to be in a good position on the court.”
Lauren Hoppler has been very good at the setter spot as the Bobcats continue to navigate through a very difficult schedule.
“I love our schedule,” said Sweatt. “I wouldn’t trade it with anyone else in the division. We’re playing bigger schools, really good programs and there isn’t an easy night all season. That should have us battle-tested when we get to the playoffs.”
Head coach Renee Zobel and the Coe Brown Bears came up just shy of a title last season after falling to Gilford in the Division II state finals. The Bears were very upperclassman heavy with eight juniors and three seniors. With most of the team returning to the court this season, coach Zobel is confident that her team can repeat the success they had a year ago. “We are just so grateful to be playing again,” says Zobel. “We have lots of seniors this year, with championship experience.”
The Bears also have a very talented junior in Kaitlyn Miller. Miller plays the setter position but can bring it on both ends of the floor. Coe Brown will also look to seniors Emily Morris and Jesse Davis for big contributions this season. Zobel has no intention of changing their style of play, given the new integration of divisions. She is confident that her squad has what it takes to win, regardless of the matchup. The Bears opened their season with a victory over Concord (3-2) on Friday. They look to grab another win on 9/26 in Durham against rival Oyster River at 4:30 pm.
The St Thomas Aquinas Saints are looking to make the most of a season that was once looked at as uncertain. Head coach Kristi Holtz is trying to embrace this different season with open arms. “Our schedule is different, but it’s still volleyball.”
Starter and senior Kaitlyn Ford returns to the outside for the Saints this year and will use her experience to help lead this group. Fellow senior setter Anabel Kossakowski returns to control the offense upfront.
Meagan Skowron and Kateri True will both be weapons for the Saints, as it will be a total team effort to get wins this season. Holtz is intrigued by new sophomore transfer Ashleigh von der Liden.
“She will be a starter for us this year.”
The Saints will look to build a chemistry with this newer group quickly. “Everything is unfamiliar, but we’ve gotten into a rhythm,” said Holtz. With a tougher schedule on hand, every win will be so important. “It will be an interesting season, we’re here to play.”
Had we covered volleyball last season, the Inter-Lakes Lakers would have been performing the undefeated dance on camera after running the table and winning the Division III state championship. In her 28th season as head coach, Randy Mattson coached her team to their first volleyball championship in school history; without losing a single game. This season, they will be playing without former middle hitter and DIII POY Emma Wheeler, who is now continuing her volleyball career at Connecticut College. Now entering her 29th season, coach Mattson is still confident that her team has what it takes to win another. With five starters returning, the Lakers expect to see a big season from senior outside hitter Isabella Quagliaroli. “[Quagliaroli] is a very experienced, and passionate player who knows what it takes to win,” says coach Mattson. The team is also excited to see sophomore middle hitter Molly Moynihan in action after she suffered a season-ending injury last year. The Lakers are excited and anxious to resume play, after showing lots of preparation and dedication at practices. They look to keep things rolling with their home opener against Newfound, on 9/21 at 5:15 pm.
After falling short of the playoffs in 2018, head coach Kevin Carreiro and his Portsmouth Christian team had a bounce-back season and earned a spot in the Division III tournament just a year ago. Although they were knocked out in the first round by a very talented Newfound team, there were a lot of promising takeaways for PCA going into this season. After graduating five seniors, the Eagles are now turning to outside hitter Lindsey Hatfield as one of the biggest contributors to their squad. The senior is a tremendous two-way player, who brings great court awareness on both ends of the floor. Hatfield will be joined by senior setter Isabelle Ouellette and junior setter Johanna Skubisz as other key contributors. Given the new integration of divisions, Carreiro has no intention of changing his style of play. They look to focus on consistent setting and up-tempo offense as they try and make a deeper playoff run this year. The Eagles kick off the 2020 season on 9/22 at home vs St.Thomas Aquinas.
Last year, head coach David Langlois and his Raymond squad finished just outside of playoff contention for the Division III state tournament. The Rams were very young going into the 2019 season, with nearly half of the varsity roster as underclassmen. “We had a great group of energetic freshman and sophomores who have improved,” says coach Langlois. “And they love to compete.” This season, the Rams are led by captains Mykenzie Rives (Sr), and Madi Garduno (Jr). Rives has been a four-year varsity player and is expected to have a big leadership and offensive role at the outside hitter position this season.
The Rams are also excited to see sophomore middle hitter Adrianna Morasse, who coach Langlois says brings great “power and aggressiveness” to the offense. Raymond kicks off the season with their home opener against rival Epping on 9/18 at 6:15 pm. It’s been eleven years since the Rams have taken down the Blue Devils. They are looking to change that Friday, on their home court.
This season is all about setting foundation work for the Trinity Pioneers. Head coach Caitlin Glennen has a group ready to get after things. “We’ve thrown a lot at them in a little bit of time, they’ve responded well.”
Senior captains Tori Lindh, Mia Webber, and Laura Gilman will all need to lead by example. “All three will be counted in heavily,” said Glennen.
Lindh is a tremendous blocker and provides a lot of height upfront. Webber has great speed and is a very smart defender. “This team counts on her, she gets in on every single play,” said Glennen. Trinity will rely on these two heavily throughout the year.
Two players to be on the lookout for are Elizabeth Mullen and Karolina Gil. “Elizabeth comes into the gym ready to be better. She is a monster at the net,” said Glennen. Gil has the playing style to be a glue player for this squad. “She gives me quickness and hustle every play.”
Glennen wants her team to compete every night. “This a totally new year, a new team, anyone who shows up can beat anyone else.” She also has preached coming out with energy as a key to being competitive. “You will win games on energy alone, that’s what I am trying to coach.” Trinity will do their best to come out with energy night in and night out.