With a new season right around the corner, there is plenty of excitement surrounding the area girls volleyball teams and with good reason. Many are coming off highly successful 2017 campaigns and are looking to continue that this year.
Southington, Innovation and Goodwin Tech - all teams that won 18 games or more - all made solid runs throughout the regular season and their respective state tournament. All three lost some key contributors and will have to fill those voids, but believe they have the talent to do so.
Berlin will be under the direction of a new head coach once again in Angie Kumm and, along with New Britain and Newington, will have a number of young players to bring along throughout the season, meaning there is sure to be some growing pains.
Then there is Plainville, which after going winless in 2017, is looking to simply win a match. But there is no place to go but up for the Blue Devils.
Here is a closer look at each team:
Head coach: Michelle Abraham (31st season)
Last year: 13-9 (Lost in first round of Class LL tournament)
Key losses: Nelanie Velez (setter), Nariely Andujar (defensive specialist), Sare Manuele (defensive specialist)
Key returnees: Raven-Simone Jarrett (junior, outside hitter), Paola Martinez (senior)
Outlook: Last season was a learning one for the Hurricanes and this year figures to be no different. New Britain had few matched go to five sets. Instead, a majority were either 3-0 wins or 3-0 losses, which comes with the growing pains of developing young talent.
Although the Hurricanes didn’t lose too many key players, they were important to reaching the state tournament. This season will see a number of younger players come up to the varsity team once again and with that they’ll have to learn how to play against that level of competition. It might be difficult considering many have never played together before, but it might not depending on how smoothly that transition goes.
But New Britain has a veteran head coach in Michelle Abraham, who was won more than 300 games throughout her career at the high school, and it will be up to those young players to soak in as much information as they can. The head coach, though, is expecting to see a number of positives, not just in the short term, but by the time the season ends.
“I feel it's going to be an exciting year of growth and accomplishments,” Abraham said.
Head coach: Angie Kumm (1st season)
Last year: 12-8 (Lost in first round of Class M tournament)
Key losses: Alyssa Dumont, Libby Aroian, Jackie Cooper
Key returnees: Lyzi Litwinko (junior, outside hitter), Bella Nardi (senior, outside hitter), Michelle Matug (senior, outside hitter)
Possible newcomers to watch: Jordan Barber (junior, setter), Alexis Kumm (junior, middle hitter), Cassie Parmelee (sophomore, outside hitter)
Outlook: This could be an intriguing season for the Redcoats, who have a new head coach for the second straight season.
Angie Kumm takes over for Megan Kennedy, who replaced longtime head coach Bob Triago. How the team performs under Kumm’s leadership remains to be seen, but she will have to deal with what will amount to a new roster. Berlin lost nine seniors to graduation and only has three players returning who have varsity experience.
That young roster will certainly be tested along the way this season with games against Platt, Bristol Eastern, New Britain and Newington - all teams that reached the postseason last year - to name a few.
It should be an interesting season to watch.
Head coach: Chris Wanner (3rd season)
Last year: 16-6 (Lost in second round of Class LL tournament)
Key losses: Blayne Wanner-Hyde (libero), Meghan Roberts (middle hitter), Yasmin Rincon (setter)
Key returnees: Carelys Benitez (junior, libero/outside hitter), Rashelle Mezquia (senior defensive specialist/libero), Azya Bass (senior, setter), Alaysiah Hall (senior, outside hitter/defensive specialist)
Outlook: The Indians enter the season with what should be plenty of momentum. The program won seven of its final 10 games to end the season despite falling to eventual state champion Greenwich in the Class LL tournament.
Newington did loss some key pieces to graduation, mainly libero Blayne Wanner-Hyde among them, but returns a number of upperclassmen that all bring different skill sets to the court.
Carelys Benitez will be the team’s defensive leader. Rashelle Mezquia and Alaysiah Hall are a “quick and scrappy defensive players” as well. Azya Bass will be relied upon to put the hitter in the best situation to come away with kills.
What could be detrimental to the Indians is their schedule, which will either help them prepare for the state tournament or hinder their chances to make it. Notable programs such as Bristol Eastern, Platt, Southington, RHAM and Farmington wait and none of those matches will be easy.
But head coach Chris Wanner likes her team’s depth off the bench, which should help, as well as their defensive speed. This will have to be a wait-and-see type of season.
Head coach: Richard Heitz (17th season)
Last year: 21-4 (Lost in semifinals of Class LL tournament)
Key losses: Steph Zera, Hannah Zelina, Erica Bruno, Nolyn Allen, Sarah Myrick
Key returnees: Haley Larabee (senior), Jenna Martin (senior), Lynsey Danko (libero, senior), Brooke Cooney (junior, outside hitter), Veronika Gorski (sophomore, middle hitter), Katherine Gunderson (junior)
Outlook: The Blue Knights enter the season with some lofty expectations after coming off a strong 2017 in which they reached their first Class LL semifinal since 2011.
If there is one issue that could get in the way of those expectations it’s the loss of a number of key players. Southington graduated five veterans who had been mainstays in the lineup and were responsible for not only making plays, but putting the younger players in the right spots on the court. It could present some challenges early in the season, according to head coach Richard Heitz.
If there is a benefit to a group of new players filling those voids, it’s height. The Blue Knights were a team on the shorter side in 2017 and already have two players at the 6-foot mark in Veronika Gorski and Katherine Gunderson. Still, it’s not as though Southington doesn’t have any players returning with three of its top four servers from 2017 in Haley Larabee, Jenna Martin and Brooke Cooney all back.
Serving and passing ability will be strengths of this team Heitz said. Of course, the Blue Knights will still have to play schools such as Glastonbury, Farmington and Avon. But overall, it should be a fun season to watch.
Head coach: Bill Moffo (2nd season)
Last year: 0-20
Key losses: Caitlin Bradley, Anna Stehle, Desiree Wesolowski
Expected key returnees: Alyssa Roy (senior), Victoria Corriveau (senior), Natalia Boltromiejuk (senior), Kate Tanguay (junior)
Outlook: To say it was a tough season for the Blue Devils would be an understatement. But after failing to win a single game after winning 20 in 2016, there is no place to go but up. It should also help that second-year head coach Bill Moffo has a number of players who were able to get some quality playing time last season. It may still be a tough year overall, but a better one at least.
Head coach: Cristina Stisser (1st season)
Last year: 18-6 (Lost in second round of Class S tournament)
Key losses: Leina Rivera, Tanija Russell, Teresa Lopez
Key returnees: Tiana Rodriguez (senior), Joarylis Pino Martinez (senior, outside hitter), Soannie Arroyo (senior, libero), Ada Guzman (junior)
Outlook: Like Berlin, the Gladiators will be under the direction of a new head coach this season with Cristina Stisser taking over for Paul Soucy, who stepped down after four years.
Under Soucy, Goodwin Tech had plenty of success in terms of wins and state tournament appearances and the program expects the same with Stisser leading the way.
The Gladiators lose a number of important seniors that helped the team win 18 games in 2017, but return a number of upperclassmen who should have no trouble filling the void across the court. Tiana Rodriguez is chief among those veteran players. She was All-CTC last season has the ability to do so again.
There are still things that have to be worked out. Stisser pointed to the team’s hitting as a something that needs to be developed with Goodwin Tech’s passing and defense as strengths.
Overall, the Gladiators should be competitive in the CTC.
Head coach: Matt Lance (5th season)
Last year: 20-4 (Lost in quarterfinals of Class S tournament)
Key losses: Bailee Nardi, Imani Rosado, Aliyah Merced
Key returnees: Morgan Sartor (senior), Alayiah Walker (senior, middle blocker), Danelys Baez-Arroyo (senior, outside hitter)
Outlook: With each passing season, the Ravens continue to get better and increase their win total. Last year, Innovation won the CRAL regular season and tournament titles. As such, the Ravens have high expectations for the upcoming season and rightfully so.
The program has even made sure it schedules a more difficult slate of opponents in Bolton, St. Paul, HMTCA and Wheeler to make sure it’s ready for the postseason.
Under head coach Matt Lance, Innovation has always been strong defensively and that should continue. Serving and serve receiving also appear to be strength for this year. But the Ravens will have to replace some offense that was lost to those graduations.
In the end, it should be another state tournament appearance for Innovation.