With five returning starters, Chagrin Falls is ready to turn the tide this season.
The Tigers finished 6-15 overall and 5-8 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division last year, but a winning season wasn’t out of reach.
“Our team struggled to tip the balance of play to get the ‘W’ last year,” third-year coach Kelly Holtz said. “Despite what our record reflects, 47 of our 71 sets last season were in the 20s or higher. Our points differential for the year was -1.2%. We’re not far from closing the gap and we believe that with the groundwork laid over the past two years and the staff we have on the roster, our result will be better in 2022.”
This fall, the Tigers hope to not only close that gap, but turn it all around and finish with a record over .500.
“With an experienced and deep roster, we just need to figure out which parts will work best in this season’s puzzle,” Holtz said.
First, they will have to take the place of several talented seniors.
Lily Rini was an all-conference first-team performer while Paelyn Benz earned second-team honors. Three other seniors helped hold Chagrin Falls together as a unit.
Luckily, the Tigers have four projected seniors in the starting rotation and three more who will contribute.
Kendall Guddy, Grace Svette, Madeline Rodriguez and Kayla Link are expected to lead the way in the starting rotation.
Guddy, a passer, earned an All-CVC honorable mention last season. She recorded 259 assists over the year.
“Don’t let her 5-foot-4 frame fool you, this girl has a 9-foot approach range and she’s looking to use it,” Holtz said. “She has a strong presence, is super competitive and has the fire to make her first senior year for the books.”
Svette, a middle hitter, was the team’s most improved player and top blocker last season.
“She grew in leaps and bounds last season and is ready to make her presence known as a 5-9 ½ center hitter who goes 9-2,” Holtz said. “It’s his year.”
Rodriguez, a passer, recorded 158 assists as a junior.
“She’s a real leader on the court and knows how to run the show,” Holtz said. “She has worked hard this year and we are waiting to see how she leads her team on the pitch.”
Link, an outside hitter, left the JV team and brings an impressive skill set and mentality to the team.
“She had an extra year to hone her skills and leadership on JV last year and the time has served her well,” Holtz said. “She is ready to contribute with her fierce attacking skills and competitive spirit.”
Rounding out the starting rotation are juniors Clara Ives and Isabel Nerpouni and second Alexa Loconti.
Ives earned second-team All-CVC honors after finishing as the team’s second tackler. She recorded 1.78 kills per set.
“She’s a solid six-rotation player at 5-7 with a 19-inch vertical,” Holtz said. “She is creative in her game to keep her team alive and score points.”
Nerpouni, an outside hitter, averaged 2.4 digs and 1.07 kills per set on his way to honorable mention All-CVC.
“She’s quietly lethal as a worker bee that gets things done on the court, whether it’s hitting, serving or being a base for our defense,” Holtz said.
Loconti, a libero/defensive specialist, spent her freshman year learning the ropes from Rini and saw some college action before she suffered an injury. Expectations for her are high this year, but Holtz is confident she’s ready.
“She’s a player to watch,” Holtz said. “She had the windshield effect as a defensive specialist last year watching senior Lily Rini. She was able to play some as a DS before breaking a finger playing defense. As our team’s most feisty recipient, she’s looking to step into the shoes of last year’s eldest and hold onto the ball until we score.
Seniors Jillian Vehar, Michaela Plante and Phoebe Gleeson, juniors Peyton Pierce, Lauren Burgess and Tatum Yanchar, and rookie Gigi Calabrese will give the Tigers depth.
Vehar is a middle hitter, Plante is an opposite side defensive specialist, and Gleeson is an opposite side hitter.
“If there was ever an athlete who did everything suggested to improve, it was Jillian. She’s committed to improving throughout the offseason. We look forward to what she can bring this year,” said Holtz. “(Plante is) our southpaw who was overshadowed last year and is looking to shine her light on the pitch this year. She’s a solid passer who keeps the ball in the air. She can be at first or in the back row. Time will tell how it works out. Phoebe brings the energy and resilience that every team needs. She looks to contribute where she can and is excited to know where the team can go this year.
Pierce is a jack-of-all-trades and can help the Tigers in a number of ways. Burgess is a libero/defensive specialist, Yanchar is another talented athlete who can help out in a variety of roles, and Calabrese is an outside hitter.
“Last year, Peyton worked hard to be seen and to be the versatile player that all coaches dream of and all of her teammates want to play with. I don’t know how she will fit into the puzzle, but she will be a piece. contribution,” Holtz said. “Lauren is our other firecracker who will give Alexa a hard time. Lauren was our libero for JV and got tons of reps and is ready to bring her talents to our college matches. We can’t go wrong with either athlete, so it’s a good problem to have.
“Tatum is a 5-7 athlete with a 19-inch vertical who is looking for where she can assert her talents this year. Gigi is our diamond in the rough. This 5-8 ½ outside hitter has a 9-2 approach range and has incredible sense of ground and competitiveness. Pay attention to her very serious serve. When she has a few more reps under her, she will be unstoppable.
Holtz is confident her team has the talent and depth to achieve their goals this season.
It all starts with intra-team competition to push each player to become the best version of themselves and will continue by developing into a cohesive unit that plays as one, regardless of the rotation on the pitch.
“Our strengths lie in our team’s desire to compete,” she said. “First our athletes had to go through college and now they’re battling to cross the line and get on the court. This is the first year we’ve had so many players who can be contributors. We’re building our atmosphere teamwork so that our competition with each other does not become our weakness. We will have to package our competitiveness from our daily practice and turn it towards our opponents. This will be a new stage for us, and a stage that our 14 athletes are eager to cross.”