LYNN — St. Mary’s volleyball coach Erin Menard has a good feeling about this year’s team.
“They all worked in offseason, played on club teams and dedicated themselves to the sport,” Menard said. “They came in ready to go. It’s an awesome vibe in the gym these days, they’re all so positive, helping each other out. It feels different than the other five years I’ve been here. They’re ready to go every day.”
The Spartans went 7-13 and missed the state tournament last year. Last year’s squad was a mix of upper and underclassmen, with five seniors and a four sophomores. This year, that young group is taking the reins.
That starts with junior captains Grace Fielding and Dorothy Carroll.
“They really stepped up from day one, they came into that gym with such energy,” Menard said. “They’ve taken the role and run with it, helping the younger players. They’ve been amazing teaching the younger kids, and they both played in club over the summer, so they gained so much experience just playing with other girls.”
Fielding is a returning Catholic Central League all-star, and Menard says she’s the floor general who never gets off the court.
“She became a leader as only a sophomore because she never came off the court,” Menard said. “She was the one constant, and that helped her grow into the captain role.”
Having those two captains ready lead is a big help, since 55 girls came out for tryouts and the team has no returning seniors.
But Fielding and Carroll will have plenty of help. There’s Gabby Torres, who started playing last season as a freshman and who Menard says “has made such strides.” There’s Sofia DelSonno, another returner who is looking to contribute. Isabella Morretti saw varsity time as a freshman last season takes over as a setter.
“I think setter is the hardest position because you have to be all over the court,” Menard said. “But she’s been working hard, taking it in stride and learning every day.”
There’s also Jenny Iudice, who saw time on varsity last year, but will have a more solidified role this year. Brianna Doherty is back to help on defense.
The Spartans also got a boost with a transfer from Salem in Courtney Kostopoulos, a sophomore.
“That’s a really nice surprise, she really makes an impact,” Menard said.
Another key addition to the team won’t play, but has plenty of experience. Former Classical volleyball standout Soneta Srey will coach the JV and assist the varsity.
“She’s been an amazing asset,” Menard said. “Her knowledge, the girls just eat it up.”
As for the team’s strengths, Menard’s satisfied with the Spartans’ hitting.
“It’s a lot better than it’s been in years past,” Menard said. “They’re approaching it in a new way. We’re training a new setter, which is hard, but it might be better because they’re all learning together.
“We lost some powerful servers, and that’s hard to replace,” Menard added. “But we’re making up for it with our hitting.”
Communication’s also one of the team’s strong suits.
“This group is running with it,” Menard said. “They’re talking all over the court, cheering each other on and being there for each other. You can’t teach that.”
With such a young squad, there will be a learning curve for the Spartans as they learn to play as a unit.
“We’re going to grow and hit our bumps in the road, but I really feel that this is a tournament team if we keep progressing the way we have been,” Menard said. “We’re making progress every day, learning each other’s strengths and flaws. I see us in the state tournament more than I ever have; this team has such finesse and determination, they’re going to fight until the end.”
The Spartans are always challenged in a strong CCL, but with Fenwick graduating a large core of seniors and other teams in the conference finding their footing with new groups, Menard hopes her team can rack up conference wins.
“It’s one of the best leagues in almost any sport,” she said. “We’re competing day in and day out, there are no days off. But it prepares us.”
The Spartans get the season going Thursday at Matignon. They’ll come home the following Tuesday, taking on the always-tough Arlington Catholic. The Spartans also have a few non-conference games against local opponents like Salem and Saugus, leading up to the Lynn City Tournament at the end of October.