Mix of Veterans, Youthful Pieces Look to Elevate Valley Volleyball
A new but familiar face will be at the helm of the Valley Regional volleyball team in 2023, along with some fresh and plucky youngsters on the court. Despite all of that, the Warriors are ready to embrace the ebbs and flows of a match and campaign to harvest great mental growth and fortitude toward success.
Last fall, Valley polished off a posh 12-8 regular season mark and qualified for the Class M State Tournament. Once there, the Warriors as the 17th seed took a hard-fought 3-2 loss at No. 16 Weston in the first round. Valley additionally made the Shoreline Conference Tournament as the 4th-ranked club, defeating No. 5 Haddam-Killingworth 3-1 in the first round prior to bowing out to No. 1 Hale-Ray 3-2 to bring its overall 2022 mark to 13-10.
The Warriors, currently 2-2 on the young slate with two-straight wins following an 0-2 start, are sporting a more youthful look across their roster this season. While other clubs may see that as a hindrance toward potential progress, new Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt knows it will be a benefit rather than a detriment as Valley discovers how to harness that trait properly.
“We have a lot of young players on the team, and we also have a lot of strong personalities,” said Bickelhaupt. “Those are all good things. But, it’s about learning how to use those to our benefit and not let them hinder us. We work a lot on the mental side of the game during or before practices, and that helps us in turn play better, trust each other, and compete at a high level. We’re just scratching the surface of what we’re going to do.”
All four of Valley’s seniors are serving as team captains with Joanna Petrone as libero, Ava Frost at setter, plus a tandem of outside hitters of Natalie Novak and Anna McCauley.
“Joanna leads by example. She is the backbone of the team, and she plays the whole game and is someone the girls trust. Ava leads with heart, and a lot of the girls confide in her, trust, and respect her,” Bickelhaupt said. “Natalie leads with her voice, and she is very communicative and passionate about the sport and her team. Anna leads by example and is finding her voice. She is starting to be the captain who addresses the hard things, which is not an easy job.”
Now having her squad stewards assembled, Bickelhaupt admits that the number of captain’s chairs exceeded her planned budget, but she is more than pleased with players that produce wealth for the Warriors through their expertise and dedication.
“I was adamant about having only two captains, with a max of three coming into the season. They all were very communicative with me and all showed an extreme interest in the position,” said Bickelhaupt. “One of the deciding factors was team vote. This was going to decide captains as each person ranked about the same in the other sections of voting. The team voted and it was almost dead even. With this information, I couldn’t take that position away from each of these girls as it was clear they wanted it and earned it.”
Additional pieces returning to the fold include junior middle hitter Regan Grow, who started the campaign with 19 kills against East Hampton in a 3-2 loss on Sept. 7; in addition to a dynamic duo of sophomores in defensive setter Hallie Moore and Nia Marchese at outside hitter.
“Regan is quiet on the floor, but is arguably our best hitter. She is aggressive on sets and can really bury the ball,” said Bickelhaupt. “Nia has a lot of power and is a dangerous hitter. She takes charge on the floor and is extremely competitive. Hallie is one of our best passers. She’s all over the floor, reads the hitters well, and sets our setters and hitters up for success.”
Valley will get a chance to exact revenge against defending Class S state-champion East Hampton at home on Thursday, Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. The Warriors will also wage war within the Shoreline in crucial clashes against Hale-Ray, last year’s state runner-up to the Bellringers, when they travel to the Noises for a 5:30 p.m. matchup on Wednesday, Oct. 4.
“[Against East Hampton in the season opener] It was a great game, but ultimately, they made fewer mistakes than us,” said Bickelhaupt. “And, Hale-Ray knocked us out of the Shoreline Tournament last year. The girls are ready to have that matchup again.”
Last week, the theme for the Warriors was taking a traveling broom as they recorded road 3-0 sweeps at Morgan and Portland on Sept. 13 and 14, respectively, after a tight 3-2 loss to Hale-Ray at home on Sept. 11.
Valley has certainly displayed its ambition on an internal basis with team targets and objectives, and the Warriors are now ready to outwardly display the heart, fire, and passion toward burning up the court that they hope will end with a conference crown when the dust settles.
“We have made a lot of goals, both individually and as a team,” Bickelhaupt said. “One big goal is to make a run in the Shorelines this year. We have the talent to do so and, when we click on a few things we’re working on, we know how possible it is to go all the way. We’re keeping our eye on the prize all season and working to make that goal a reality.”
Bickelhaupt, who is also the head coach of the girls’ hoops squad at Valley, is assisted by Sofia and Katie Cullina in her first campaign as the bench boss for the volleyball team.
The 2023 Valley Regional volleyball team roster is comprised of seniors Novak, Petrone, McCauley, Frost; juniors of Emma Gibson, Stella Greenawalt, Grow, Rubee Cecchini, and Lily Belcher; sophomores in team manager Genevieve Carlson, Kellyn Kolber, Moore, Taylor Zduniak, Marchese, and Helen Manco; and freshmen with Daphne Zito, Madelyn Delorso, Charlotte Kolb, Eleanor Collins, Zahra Zain, Alexa Escarraman, Madelyn Stone, Josephina McGee, Linnea Winkley, Charlotte Bach, Katie DeMik, and Macy Rock.
2023 Valley Regional Volleyball Regular Season Schedule
Sept. 7: East Hampton 3, Valley Regional 2
Sept. 11: Hale-Ray 3, Valley Regional 2
Sept. 13: Valley Regional 3, Morgan 0
Sept. 14: Valley Regional 3, Portland 0
Monday, Sept. 18: vs. Cromwell at 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 20: vs. Haddam-Killingworth at 4 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22: at Old Lyme at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 26: at Cromwell at 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 27: vs. North Branford at 5:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 29: at Coginchaug at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 2: vs. Granby Memorial at 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 4: at Hale-Ray at 5:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6: vs. Morgan at 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 11: vs. Portland at 4 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 12: vs. East Hampton at 4 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 16: at Haddam-Killingworth at 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 18: vs. Old Lyme at 4 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 19: vs. North Branford at 5:30 p.m.
Monday, Oct. 23: vs. Coginchaug at 4 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 26: at Waterford at 5:30 p.m.