With program history on their side and a quality roster available, the Haverhill girls will once again be considered in the hunt for the Merrimack Valley Conference volleyball title. and if recent practice was any indication, the Hillies will have a lot of fun battling it out.
“We try to keep it positive and fun every day,” said three-time senior captain Morgan Flaherty. “But we also try to stay serious and make sure we get things done. I think it works. Last year we had a successful season, and this year I think we will be successful too.
Flaherty and the Hillies have had a lot of success lately, going 30-3 the past two seasons, including going 11-0 in the spring of 2021 and 19-3 last fall when they reached the Division 1 Final Four.
Although six players with extensive experience return, Flaherty is the only senior.
“We had a good mix last year in the starting lineup between (three) seniors, juniors and sophomores,” said head coach Vincent Pettis, who has won 63 of 74 games in four years. “We’re a bit junior heavy this year, which isn’t a bad thing.”
This year’s subclasses are battle-tested and include returning Eagle-Tribune All-Stars Emme Cerasuolo, a junior passer, and Gabby Burdier, a sophomore Libero and younger sister of previous Hillie and MVP stars. from Eagle-Tribune Jada (spring 2021) and Kya (last fall).
“The dynamic is a bit different,” said three-time junior captain Taylor Lewis, who with Cerasuolo has played beach and grass tournaments this summer. “This year, many of us are friends. So it brings us closer as teammates. We all learn each other’s skills and how to work together to achieve the same goals.
Rounding out the starting lineup are juniors Sydney Riley, a middle hitter, and ET All-Star honorable mention pick Mia Ferrer Valdez, an outside hitter/setter. The starting lineup is supported by senior Haley Phillips and a group of five juniors eager to see the action.
“Every year we (graduated) a few (players),” Pettis said. “We haven’t had a big class yet. This junior class could be our first big class of all children in the same group.
The Hillies open the season Thursday, traveling to Lincoln-Sudbury, a team they eliminated in the quarterfinals in five sets last year.
“I think over the last few years we’ve lost a few (graduated) kids and they were worried about how good we were going to be,” Pettis said. “And it always depends on how well we gel at the start. There are some good tracks here… I think it’s going to be okay.
Although the Hillies are expected to be among the conference favorites once again, MVC is still a tough place to play. Five teams were in the top 17 of the Division 1 Power Rankings last year. While Haverhill entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, North Andover finished third, Andover seventh, Methuen 15th and Lowell 17th.
“I think it’s going to be better this year,” Pettis said. “Last year I think a lot of teams were junior heavy and this will be their senior year. I see the league improving this year.
His peers also think the conference is only getting better.
“I think MVC will be strong again this year,” North Andover coach Christin Augustini said. “And with the MIAA Power Rankings, MVC teams will continue to be highly ranked across all divisions based on the overall strength of our schedules and opponents.”
The knights are looking for more
Augustini hopes his second year as head coach of North Andover will go at least as well as his rookie campaign.
The Scarlet Knights went 18-3 and reached the state quarterfinals before losing to Newton North – who also beat Haverhill in the next round – earning Augustini MVC Division 1 Coach of the Year honors.
Among the three starters he hosts are Nadine Abdat, an ET All-Star and a Bryant University entry.
“Nadine Abdat is our attacking workhorse in the middle and is a huge defensive presence in net,” Augustini said.
Seniors Anna Wong, a setter, and libero Sadie Salafia are the other returning starters.
“Wong’s energy and knowledge of the court are among the highest in our conference,” Augustini said. “She plays aggressive and smart all the time.
Four other letter winners return, including senior outside forward Jaylynn DesRochers.
“She has really improved her level of play and her consistency away from home,” Augustini said. “I’m super excited to see what she does this fall.”
Matt Twomey has a lot to look forward to in his 18th year at Methuen. After all, Rangers went 12-9 last season, reaching the round of 16, and he has 10 returning quality letter winners.
“We expect to be tough this year,” said Twomey, who is 217-128 with Methuen. “We have a strong senior class looking to leave their mark and go further in the tournament than we did last year.”
Confidence should be high with seniors Samantha Driend and Carolina Rodriguez back.
Driend, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, was the MVC Division 1 Player of the Year and an ET All-Star, while Rodriguez, a libero, was an honorable mention ET All-Star.
Driend had 428 kills, 170 digs and 64 aces last year and needs another 300 kills to reach 1,000 in his career. This summer, she teamed up with her younger sister Kathryn, a rookie joining this year’s Rangers team, and Rodriguez to play for the North East Bay State team that went 14-0.
Other comebacks include seniors Michaela Henrick, Ella Barron, Ella Barletta and Hailey DHont.
Change at Andover
A year after going 14-7 and reaching the Round of 16 in Jane Bergin’s eighth year at the helm, the Warriors are welcoming a new coach in Dan Young. He previously served as the head coach of Salem (NH) High, earning Eagle-Tribune Coach of the Year honors in 2006 and 2011. He served as an assistant for the Andover men’s team in the spring.
A solid body of five returning starters, including three Eagle-Tribune All-Star honorable mentions, expects Young to start on a solid footing.
Senior middle hitter Marissa Kobelski and setter Sophia Pierce along with junior opposite hitter Adrie Waldienger will lead the charge. Senior outside hitters Sophia Miele and defensive specialist Lila Sipley also started last year,
“We have strong leadership from our senior class,” Young said. “Through their leadership, we are confident they will continue to guide the development and influence the young players in our program and community.”
Year two jump
Central Catholic has struggled to post a five-game winning season under a freshman coach, but Alana McNeil expects big improvement in her second season.
Eagle-Tribune honorable mention Eva Coutu, a senior libero, and Kathleen Smith, a senior middle hitter, lead a field of four returning starters. Fellow senior outside hitters Herian Perez and Francheska Paulino also return.
“We rely on our captains Kathleen Smith and Eva Coutu for strong leadership on the field,” Young said. “Perez and Paulino will be a solid presence in the front row.
Hoping to bounce back from a three-game winning season, the former powerhouse Lawrence is looking to senior outside striker Anyelis Hernandez to lead the way.
“Our team is counting on her not just as a captain, but as an all-around player,” said Lawrence’s assistant coach Marleti Valdez, who is also the mother of Haverhill junior Mia Ferrer Valdez.
Hernandez will be supported by fellow returning starters Anyelis De La Cruz and Mya Rivera.
“Our goal is to grow our program this year after two tough years,” Valdez said. “We try to restore the motivation and the love of the sport to our players.”