With Erik Kocur out of the lineup, the Shelton boys volleyball team was a completely different squad.
The Gaels were still a talented unit, but Kocur’s absence was certainly apparent.
Kocur did not play against Greenwich in the first round of the Class L state tournament this season due to orientation at UConn. Shelton dropped the first two games against the Cardinals before rallying and advancing to the quarterfinals.
“I was like, ‘guys, you’re fine. What are you doing?,’” Shelton coach LeAnn Bianchine said. “They were like ‘we don’t have Erik.” It’s not that we needed him so much physically, we needed him mentally. That says something to me.”
Kocur, the Register Area MVP, helped usher in a revival for the Gaels’ program. After winning just a combined eight matches his first two seasons, Shelton won 14 games last season before finishing 20-3 this year.
The Gaels won the SCC tournament championship and advanced to the Class L semifinals before losing to Darien this season. The Gaels went unbeaten in league play and won their first SCC title since 2008.
“It (winning the SCC title) was a huge accomplishment,” Kocur said. “We kind of expected it after going undefeated in the regular season during SCCs. We thought we should win the final, win the whole tournament. We were pretty happy about that.”
A starter since freshman year, Kocur, a former basketball standout, gave up the latter sport to concentrate on volleyball. Kocur since developed into one of the state’s top players, and the intangibles he brought to his team were invaluable.
“He’s such a presence on the court,” Bianchine said. “When we didn’t have him for Greenwich, we felt it. His presence on the court made me say he’s our MVP, and I don’t always pick an MVP. But he knows how to bring a team together. He knows how to motivate them. He knows how to keep their heads up. He’s a proud kid, he comes from a proud family that had to work for everything they have. That’s how he is, and he brings it to our team. Erik is a monumental figure for us in volleyball. I am going to be lost without him next year.”
Kocur averaged 15 kills, nine digs and two aces per game this season. He was an All-SCC and Class L coaches all-state selection, was selected to play in the senior all-star game and was named the MVP of the SCC tournament, He was also ranked third in his class and named to the academic all-state team.
When Kocur was a freshman, he was used primarily as a defensive player and had a strong passing game. But Kocur evolved into the team’s top offensive threat.
“He became just this outstanding hitter,” Bianchine said. “His arm swing became faster, his approach was faster. I am going to miss watching those quick, little feet head up to the net and put that ball down.”
Shelton, which lost non-conference games in the regular season to East Hartford and eventual Class L champion Ridgefield, attempted to win its first state title since 2005. Despite falling short of that goal, Kocur was still pleased with how his final season unfolded.
“It was definitely a great season,” Kocur said. “It was definitely an accomplishment to bring Shelton volleyball back to where it used to be.”