By MICHAEL LETENDRE
The last time the Plainville volleyball team qualified for the state tournament in back to back years, it was during the 2001-2002 seasons. It was a big accomplishment for the Blue Devils back then and it hasn’t been accomplished since. Ten years later, Plainville is looking to repeat that amazing success the program enjoyed just after the turn of the century. But will it come true this season? Here’s a quick look at the 2012 Plainville volleyball squad:
Head Coach: Steve Compson (sixth season)
2011 record: 9-9 overall; 7-7 CCC South
State Tournament: Ranked 22nd in Class M field, Plainville dropped three straight games to No. 11 Foran (25-18, 25-13, 25-14).
Strength: Active offseason.
Weakness: Graduated a number of skill players; inexperience.
Key Losses: Hitters Nikki Dow and Jenna Florance, Setter Lindsey Allario, Kendra Palaia, Alle Caponigro (Cassidy award winner), Sam Zaza and CCC South All Conference Player Megan Johnson (female athlete of the year at Plainville).
Returning Players: Kate Dressel (sr.), hitter; Alicia Gorski, (jr.), passer/setter; Marisa Rizzo (jr.), back row; Sarah Thompson (jr.), hitter/serving.
This year’s question: Who will step it up this season to help the Blue Devils get back to the state tournament picture?
The skinny: The last time the Blue Devils won a league title was during the 2001 campaign when Plainville went 14-6 and was Northwest Conference co-champion with Farmington.
While a CCC South championship might not be in the cards, another shot at the Class M tournament is certainly within reach.
The Blue Devils went 9-9 overall last season and defeated a number of opponents – such as Maloney and Berlin (twice) – on its way to its best campaign since the 2002 when the club went 15-5 and had a senior laden core which included the likes of Lynn McConachie, Kristen Webber, Dianna Huebner, Erin Varano and Erin Battista.
But in 2003, Plainville fell to 2-16 and this year’s edition is looking to avoid that same fate.
And that is certainly a tall order for sixth year coach Steve Compson.
“We lost seven players to graduation,” said Compson. “We returned four players that earned varsity uniforms last season but most saw limited action. Their skills were not quite ready for what we needed at that level.”
The loss of hitters Nikki Dow and Jenna Florance, setter Lindsey Allario, Kendra Palaia, Alle Caponigro, Sam Zaza and All Conference standout Megan Johnson certain hurts but Plainville will return a number of key components to this year’s squad.
Senior Kate Dressel will be Plainville’s leading hitter and certainly could be the team’s best player.
Her leadership will be critical in leading this year’s young club.
“Senior Kate Dressel is the best returning hitter on the team and finished last season very well,” said Compson. “She had a break out year as a player during basketball season where her hustle earned her many accolades. I hope and believe that she can bring that same spirit and energy to our court.”
Another player who will have to make a major impact this season is junior Marisa Rizzo who saw floor time in 2011 and played a little bit in the back row last season.
“Marisa Rizzo saw action as a utility player in the back row last year but has been working on her game during the offseason,” said Compson. “She played with Sarah (Thompson) on the Bristol Crush Team. We hope her burning desire can lift the level of competition in practice and games.”
“We have great hopes for her.”
Junior Alicia Gorski might have to wear a number of different hats this season while junior Sarah Thompson saw some time on the floor in 2011 and will be in the line-up as well.
“Alicia Gorski is the best all around returning passer but might need to take on setting duties, something she did in a few varsity games (and in many JV games),” said Compson. “(She’s) one of the under classmen that has shown great leadership in the offseason. She also attended several clinics in the offseason to work on her skills.”
Finally, Sarah Thompson made strides last year and Compson has big hopes for the talented junior.
“Sarah Thompson is one of the best servers in the program,” said Compson. “We hope to see growth as a hitter which could earn her more playing time.”
Getting production from that foursome is critical but a number of younger players will also have to take the reins to help the Blue Devils get back to the pay window (a.k.a., the state tournament).
“We have a number of other players that will need to prove themselves during the first few days of tryouts,” said Compson. “No player should take anything for granted. No one moves up, they need to step up.”
The key for Plainville was the offseason as now more than ever, a number of players in the program participate in volleyball activities before and after the scholastic year commences.
For the Blue Devils, it’s a critical step in its overall season preparation.
“We had a very active off season,” said Compson.”Three girls played for the Bristol Crush during the off season and were members of a good team. Three other players attended offseason clinics at the Morgan Classic at Springfield College and at Trinity College specialty camps. And twelve girls played in a summer league at Cantons Valley Sports Complex.”
This team certainly knows what it takes to get back to the state tournament picture but it will take a little extra work by a couple unproven players to get there.
And getting back to the playoffs would continue to point the program in the right direction and Compson has all the faith in the world his team can and will do it.
CCC South Outlook: Both Bristol schools will once again be tough to handle with Eastern still boasting a packed line-up with a stellar, young setter (Brianna Root, sophomore) and the toughest hitter in the league (Karissa Smith, senior) who have to be dealt with. The Meriden schools, Platt and Maloney, are always tough while Berlin, well, is Berlin and always seems to reload quickly.
Schedule: Here’s a look at last season’s finish in the CCC South plus what Plainville has to look forward to over its 2012 schedule, which includes a visit by Hartford’s Sports Medical and Science Academy in a showdown from the Ivan Wood Gymnasium to conclude the season.