MIDDLETOWN >> The sparkling new floor looked as pristine as the deck on the world’s richest yacht. You could even smell the polish.
The waxy odor, however, was just a welcome sign.
The Vinal Tech girls volleyball team was finally home.
After practicing for a little over a month outdoors, and playing their first eight games on the road while the basketball gymnasium floor on Daniels Street was completely refurbished, the Hawks had their first practice in their new digs on Tuesday.
And the Vinal players seemed to relish the hitting and passing drills under the bright lights as they prepared for last night’s home opener against Goodwin Tech.
“We were extremely happy to be able to get (the gymnasium) at this point so now we can actually run a set practice with all the different drills that we like to run,” Vinal Tech coach Jeff Pulaski said. “It’s been a little bit of hardship but we’ve adapted and hopefully the season turns around now.”
This is Pulaski’s first year with the Hawks. He coached a decade ago in Norwich and before he could set up a preseason practice schedule with his new team, a huge dilemma arose: overhauling the 60-year old gymnasium floor was a bigger project than anyone expected.
“It took two weeks just for the sanding,” Pulaski explained.
With limited options – most area gymnasiums were in use (although the Hawks practiced at Snow Elementary, whose gym was available for just one day) – Pulaski had to cobble together something quick.
The solution was right in their back yard. The Hawks were heading to the spacious outdoors.
Each day the team wheeled the volleyball net outside and parked it onto a patch of grass behind the school, next to the “E house,” an energy efficient building that is under construction. The net was tied tightly into the ground by stakes. And white lines were sprayed into the grass.
Yes, the sun was hot and blocked the players eyes on occasion. But this wasn’t beach volleyball, by any means. It was also a far cry from anything the players had experienced before, especially playing without a gymnasium ceiling.
“The sky was, literally, the limit,” Vinal Tech senior captain Kristin Crowley said. “You could go as high as you wanted too and it didn’t matter.”
There were other factors as well.
“I would say the biggest difference was the grass,” said Pulaski. “There were some inherent things that we couldn’t practice, like pancaking and digging off the floor. We couldn’t do it off the grass.”
“Volleyball is all pretty much ground work,” added Crowley. “We have a lot of new girls and by the time we got to our first game it was kind of bad because they didn’t know how to play off a ceiling or even slide and make digs.”
Crowley, who is the Hawks setter and only senior, is elated with the move indoors.
“I’m really happy,” said Crowley, who smiled during a lot of the drills at Tuesday’s practice. “It’s my senior year and my mom wants to come to the home games.”
After tonight’s road game at Wilcox Tech in Meriden, the Hawks finish their Constitution State Conference slate with eight straight home matches.
It couldn’t have a come at a better time. Vinal Tech (0-9) has won just one set all season.
“I’m hoping that playing at home they’ll feel a lot more pride and spirit in their play and we’ll start to step up the game a little bit,” Pulaski said. “They’ve shown some good skills. It’s just a matter of regularity.”
Pulaski is overseeing a major rebuilding job this season. The Hawks won 22 games in 2008 and 2009, making the Class S state tournament both years. But they have won just five games since.
“We want to do well but the reality of the situation is next year is the year where we really expect a lot,” Pulaski added.
Vinal has captured two wins this season at the JV level, which was resurrected this year with a host of underclassmen.
The Hawks roster also includes Ariah Lopez, Taylor Rose, Monique Cloutier, Breanna Harmon, Jazmyn Shea-Raspardo, Julibeth Gonzalez, Mariah Deteau, Tatyana Overton, Christina Harrison, Lexi Lebert, Samia Belin, Kayla Novotasky, Alexandra Vasquez, Ashley Dandrade, Nadiya Martowski, Jennifer Reynoso, Shelby Winborne, Jayla Bell and first year assistant coach Breanna Grazior.
“There’s a few things we need to work on now for the second half of the season,” Pulaski said. “The goal is now to get into a regimented practice rather than just kind of dealing with the conditions that we have dealt with. We are definitely looking forward to the second half.”
For Crowley, the goal is much bigger.
“I want to leave senior year with at least one win,” Crowley said. “I can count all the wins we’ve had on one hand for the past four years. I kind of want to win one game and leave with a bang.”
If not before, maybe Crowley will get her wish on Senior Night against Platt Tech (Oct. 22) on the Hawks’ beautiful new floor.
“It’s nice to play on your home court,” Pulaski said.