Cheshire’s Jillian Haberli led her team to a tough 3-2 victory over Amity in the Class LL semifinals this season. The senior outside hitter contributed 18 kills, 15 digs and showed some of her teachers who came to watch the game a different side of her.
“They were like, ‘Oh my God, the intensity you bring on that court,’” Haberli recalled. “‘That’s not you! Is that Jillian?’”
Haberli’s intense play helped her rack up 253 kills, 177 digs, 64 aces, 11 blocks and the Register Area MVP honor. Haberli led the Rams to their second straight Southern Connecticut Conference championship and their third straight Class LL championship match appearance.
Cheshire coach Sue Bavone said although Haberli has a fun, playful side, when she’s on the court, the senior is all business.
“She’s a very driven person, a very driven player,” said Bavone, who was also named the Register’s Area Coach of the Year.
Even though Haberli’s drive helped her collect this honor after her senior season, it could be the work she put in during her sophomore year that sealed the deal. Haberli started playing volleyball in seventh grade, but the right-handed outside hitter had some technical issues with her game when she got to Cheshire.
“Her footwork was for a left-handed hitter,” Bavone said.
The senior said she didn’t notice it until her freshman season. During her sophomore season she did something about it.
“At that point I knew I wanted to play in college and I knew I needed the right footwork to be the most effective hitter,” Haberli said.
After tough, three-hour practices, Haberli would stay after and work with assistant coach Jared Ocoma to correct her footwork. They worked with cones and changed her approach to hitting.
“We were imitating the motion of a right-handed person’s approach,” Haberli said. “I would just do those over and over and over again until it was drilled in my head to do it that way. It was all repetition.”
According to Bavone, it took Haberli about a year to fully get her footwork where she needed it to be. She said when Haberli gets her mind set on something, she will stop at nothing to achieve it.
“When it comes to volleyball, she’s very serious,” Bavone said. “She’s composed and she’s intense.”
Said Haberli: “Now I can hit that sharp cross-court angle where before I couldn’t get my body around that way to hit it. The line shot was hard for me. All I could hit was that basic position six or that deep corner shot.”
After a strong junior season in which she helped lead her team to a state championship victory over Staples, she came back even stronger in her senior campaign. Bavone said Haberli, who is being heavily recruited by Brandeis, showcased excellent leadership qualities as well.
“She’s calm under pressure,” the coach said. “There’s not a lot of highs and lows with her emotions. I think it calms the other kids on the team.”
In the Class LL semifinals against division-rival Amity, Haberli never lost her cool. The Rams dropped the first game of the match by two points. Then, after taking the second game, they lost the third and faced elimination in Game 4. Despite what her teachers may have thought, itw was definitely Haberli who led her team to back-to-back victories of 25-19 and 15-10.
“It’s me,” she smiled. “The volleyball court is somewhere for me to be the person that loves what they do.”