LYNN — After a few down seasons, it’s fair to say that the St. Mary’s volleyball team’s due to make some noise in 2018. And it appears the Spartans have the pieces in place to make that happen.
Mike McDuffee takes over as head coach at St. Mary’s and he said the Spartans showed positive signs during the preseason.
“Things are looking good,” McDuffee said. “There’s a few gaps in knowledge with the system I want to run. We had to go back and learn that. It’s tough to know if they’ve learned it until we get an in-game situation. We scrimmaged Lynn Tech Monday and things looked good.”
Although there’s a learning curve as a new coach implements a new system, the Spartans have four seniors who’ll help move the adjustment along quickly.
Grace Fielding returns for her senior season at outside hitter.
“Grace has done a lot in the offseason with camps and club teams as well,” McDuffee said. “She has improved quite a bit in the offseason. She’s already a very good player. I saw her a bit last season and she has improved.”
Senior Sharliz Bonifacio, who missed time last year battling a leg injury, will play a key role at setter.
“Setter’s the quarterback out there,” McDuffee said. “She runs the offense, she makes everything happen. To see her healthy, moving quickly across the court, that’s a big sigh of relief for me. We have some depth at that position but she has expertise. She’s polished and she’s a little more aggressive, that’s very important.”
Also projected to play major roles are seniors Dorothy Carroll (middle hitter) and Natalie Kane (opposite/right side hitter).
With four seasoned veterans leading the way, experience and leadership look to be two of St. Mary’s strengths.
“I think experience and leadership are the two biggest things,” McDuffee said. “Volleyball’s a sport where you need to have chemistry on the court if you want to be successful. Building that chemistry’s just as important as skills and drills. A player needs to know that if they miss a couple balls or a serve, the teammates will support. The chemistry’s important. We have a senior representative at every position on the court.”
McDuffee said he’ll also rely on a handful of underclassmen from the junior varsity team to step up as the season takes its course. The junior varsity players will practice with the varsity team and McDuffee hopes St. Mary’s senior leadership trickles down to the younger players.
“We have a few junior varsity kids that are going to practice with varsity, sit on the bench during varsity and possibly play in games,” McDuffee said. “Having that leadership, teaching them how to play the game and how to act according to what we expect from a St. Mary’s student athlete, that’s important.”
With renovations and refurbishing taking place at Conigliaro Gymnasium, the Spartans will play the first few games of the 2018 season on the road. St. Mary’s hopes its home floor will be ready in time for a Sept. 18 home opener against Catholic Central League opponent Cardinal Spellman.
McDuffee said playing a string of matches on the road won’t be an easy task but the Spartans have embraced the challenge.
“Anytime you face a challenge, even a minor one like playing a home game as an away one, it really helps the growth of the community,” McDuffee said. “I think bonds of loyalty are built through that struggle. It’s minor but I still think it has an effect on our girls. It’s not ideal, we all know that but we’re going to be better. It doesn’t matter what gym we’re playing in, the dimensions of the court of the same. We need to run the court the way we run the court. I think that’s the mentality we need.”
St. Mary’s opens the season Tuesday (5) at Matignon.