They know bitter defeats. They know winning. The question now is do they know how to use all to their advantage?
Those are the questions facing the girls of the Sacred Heart Academy volleyball team. Stalled by a slow start last season which saw the Sharks drop their first seven matches, most in heartbreaking fashion, Sacred Heart Academy rallied to fall just one match short of the postseason.
That one small step is what will push the Sharks this year as they have adopted the slogan “Respect all. Fear none.” That slogan is in reference to a season ago where the Sharks may not have thought they were good enough or may have thought they could not match up with the top teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference. Not so this year according to head coach Mia Malafronte.
“We lost some tough matches early in the season last year,” Malafronte said. “We lost six of them either because it was out of fear we were not good enough or out of fear of the big teams we were playing. Our message is we are not going to play with fear.”
Malafronte said although this year’s team will take something from that poor start, last season is in the rearview mirror. With four sophomores expected to make a lasting impact on the season, Malafronte has already seen the group take on a team and family attitude.
“On day one of the tryouts, I collectively spoke to the team throughout the day, telling them it is not about their age,” Malafronte said. “This is a team, a family. I told the girls if they see someone sitting at a table, jump in. If you see someone sitting alone, join them. We are trying to pull down the age or grade barriers. It is not about that. As a team, they are all on the same level. No matter what the age, we want them to encourage each other. They have done that. They have made each other feel comfortable.”
That team unity will prove to be big as the Sharks also have four seniors and three juniors making significant contributions.
Leading the way for the Sharks will be senior captains Chrissy Chow and Liz Mackey. Chow is a defensive stalwart from the libero position, while Mackey is an outside hitter.
“As a sophomore, I played varsity,” Chow said. “In the beginning, I did not feel part of the team. It was not anyone’s fault. So, I have definitely been in their situation. When an upperclassman says hi to you, it makes you feel good to be noticed. We do not want to make them feel not wanted. Everyone is wanted here and we need them to be a big part of the team. We are excited to have them.”
Seniors Courtney Clarkin and Ryann Koons will be impact players with Clarkin a middle hitter and Koons a right-side hitter.
The four sophomores are: Mariana Kordorsky, who will run the offense as the team’s setter, Jillian Manning, an outside hitter, Julia Davis, a middle hitter, and Ally Kirck, an all-around talented player who gives Malafronte the option to play her anywhere on the court.
“Our spirit will make up the difference 100 percent,” Mackey said of getting back to the postseason. “We are incredibly excited to have the underclassmen on the team. Every single girl is all in. Everyone is committed. It is such an incredible feeling to lead this group.”
Juniors Annie-Jordan Tomaszek (setter), and Maureen Okang and Barbara Kefalas (middle hitters)will look to make an impact.
“Mariana (Kordorsky) stepped in as a freshman setter when Sarah Underkoffler got hurt last year,” Malafronte said. “Her and Jill (Manning) saw a lot of time last year. That helps a lot when any young player has previous experience. They have already stepped on a varsity court. They have that experience. They do not have that nervousness. They have done it.”
The 2017 season is Malafronte’s fourth. The team improved on its record the first two seasons, before taking a step back a year ago. Now, Malafronte feels this team is ready to soar for the next few seasons.
“I have seen the dedication these kids have,” Malafronte said. “I have one girl who lives in Essex and her parents drop her off at school and pick her up when we are done with practice without the blink of an eye. The girls are happy to be here. These kids have so much on their plates, but they truly want to make volleyball a part of their life. They encourage each other, which is good to see and they don’t mind staying. They are always working.
“I was happiest to see all the work they put in over the summer. It is very clear 90 percent of them worked on their game in the offseason. They wanted to improve and they did. They worked hard and went to camps. They practice together. That is good to see.”