Sports Person of the Week
Stefania Sets the Stage for East Haven
Senior Kayla Stefania is in her second season as East Haven’s starting setter and is also leading the team as a captain this year. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Stefania)
Kayla Stefania patiently waited for her opportunity to be the starting varsity setter for the East Haven girls’ volleyball team. Kayla got her opportunity in her junior year and hasn’t looked back since, earning the additional title of team captain as a senior this season.
Kayla started playing volleyball in 6th grade at Joseph Melillo Middle School. Kayla’s older sister Danielle competed for the high school team at the time and, after watching her sister play, Kayla decided that she wanted to give the sport a shot.
“I watched my sister play in high school, and I thought it was really interesting. So, I decided to join,” says Kayla. “I saw how different her games were from the middle school. We would play in the backyard and go down to the beach and use the nets there. She taught me.”
Following a three-season run at the middle school, Kayla entered high school and joined the East Haven volleyball squad, spending her first season as the backup varsity setter behind Kayla Goodrich. While she had three years of volleyball experience under her belt, Kayla found that playing for the Yellowjackets was an entirely different beast.
“It was very different. We had to relearn everything—the positions, the rotations, and being able to actually volley,” Kayla says. “It wasn’t like that before.”
As she worked hard to become the starting setter, Kayla took advice from her veteran teammates no matter where she was on the floor. Kayla says that 2020 graduate Bella Ragaini proved crucial in her development.
“I always wanted to be Bella,” says Kayla. “Bella was a great setter and such a great athlete. She always inspired me. She helped me a lot, which was great.”
Kayla earned the starting varsity setter’s role for the Easties as a junior and recorded 159 assists on the season. By this time, Kayla felt that she had a better understanding of the game and how to use the skills that she had acquired during her time in the program. The setter position is exactly where Kayla wants to be, because she enjoys having an impact on every play and putting her teammates in position to succeed.
“I love playing it, because I’m always involved. I have to always get the second ball and always try my hardest,” Kayla says. “I have to help get my team up and help them accomplish what they need to do.”
Entering her senior season, Kayla maintained her starting spot, while being named a captain alongside fellow senior Magdalena Barthel. Kayla had wanted to be a captain since her freshman year, and she’s honored to share the captain’s hat with her good friend.
“It meant a lot. I’ve worked hard all three years heading into my senior year. It felt like I really earned it,” says Kayla. “It was really amazing, because I was right beside Lena. We played softball when we were younger. It was nice to enjoy that moment with her.”
East Haven picked up its first win of the season when the team defeated West Haven last week. Kayla feels glad to back on the court this fall and says that everyone on the club is putting in the work at practice to get better every day.
Kayla’s journey through volleyball started in the backyard with her sister and brought her to the Yellowjackets, where she has become a pivotal member of the volleyball team’s success. Kayla always feels proud to wear the East Haven jersey whenever she steps on the court with her teammates.
“It means so much. I’ve created so many friendships,” Kayla says. “Even the girls who graduated, I still talk to them. I’m making connections with the younger girls. I just cherish it so much.”