Convent of the Sacred Heart volleyball experienced, ready for playoff push

With nearly the entire varsity roster back from last year and some talented newcomers to the team, the Convent of the Sacred Heart volleyball team will be looking to add some banners to the school’s gymnasium this year.

“Like every year, I tell them that they have the capability of winning tournaments, but the main goal is for them to play their best volleyball whenever we are on the court,” Sacred Heart head coach Kim Lippmann said. “If we win, that’s great. But if we didn’t win, at least we can walk off the court and say that we played our best.”

 

Last year the Tigers had a strong regular season, but fell in the semifinals of both the Fairchester Athletic Association and the New England Prep School Athletic Conference tournaments. This time around, Lippmann and the rest of Sacred Heart has been working hard to make sure that if the Tigers are defeated, it’s not because of errors or mental lapses.

“If another team is going to score on us, they are going to have to earn it,” Lippmann said. “We need to minimize our mistakes and don’t want to give the other team points. They need to earn those points off of us.”

This year’s volleyball team will be led by two very familiar faces, as senior Alex Jordan and Devon Hoffman will be the co-captain, just like they were last season.

“They both played on travel teams in the offseason and they just have to be the leaders,” Lippmann said. “If I am wanting the team to talk more, they are the first ones that have to step up and talk. I look to them to sometimes to read the expression on my face because some times the gyms are so loud that I can’t scream loud enough. This will be their third year starting on varsity, so they know what a certain look on my face means and what I am going to say before I say it. It’s not very often when you have the same people start for three years in a row.”

Jordan is one of the team’s outside hitters, while the 6-01 Hoffman will play the middle and key the team’s blocking.

“Alex is a great outside hitter and is incredible at covering the floor,” Lippmann said. “Her defense is spot on and during the offseason she developed her hitting and that’s way better than it’s ever been. Devon is tall, and in addition to her hitting, we are really pushing her blocking. Our blocking has been lacking and this year we’ve done a lot more drills on blocking. At 6-01, when she gets to the front row, I want her to own the net and not let anything over if she can help it. I need her to step up when it comes to blocking.”

Last year Maggie Ellison was all over the court, playing the middle and the outside. Now entering her junior year, the Tigers are putting Ellison on the right side.

“We want to utilize her blocking abilities more,” Lippmann said. “She also has a beautiful set, is a really good defensive player and that will help us.”

Sophomore Grace McKenney will be the team’s setter. Over the summer McKenney competed on a travel volleyball team and Lippmann is looking for continued improvement. Junior Bianca Chiappelloni is another middle hitter for the Tigers.

“We are working on her hitting,” Lippmann said. “We are trying to make her hitting more powerful. She’s a really smart player and has a good reaction time. We are looking to up her blocking this year as well.”

At libero will be Jennifer Esposito. Last year, Esposito started in the beginning of the season, however as the season went along, she didn’t see as much playing time. This year it’s a different story.

“She improved a lot over the year,” Lippmann said. “Last year she kind of trailed off, but this year she has come in and is much more confident. I know she played club ball over the winter. Her serving has improved and her accuracy has improved. Whenever I see someone struggling in the back row, I put her in and know I can count on her to get the job done.”

Senior Nicole Zoulis was a setter on the team, but when McKenney came in last year as a freshman, she did an outstanding job and Lippmann had a problem to solve. This year, Zoulis will be playing for Hoffman out of the back row due to her stellar hitting and defense.

“We wanted to use Nicole because she is very talented, but it was frustrating for her at first because she didn’t know where she was going to be used either,” Lippmann said. “She has turned into a great defensive specialist. The nice thing about Nicole is that she can hit and that hitting from the back row has made a huge difference in our wins. She got a great serve, can hit the ball with power and is a great athlete.”

New to varsity is sophomore Claire O’Neill, however she’s not new to varsity sports at CSH. Last year O’Neill played on the FAA champion basketball team and was highly successful there.

“When I am teaching her things about volleyball, if I put them in the perspective of basketball, it clicks for her,” Lippmann said. “When I want her to work on her blocking, I tell her to pretend it’s basketball. When I say that, her timing is perfect. She played in both games and all our scrimmages and she’s going to be our breakout player.”

Sacred Heart will have one spot that will be opened for anyone that steps up during practice and has improved the most.

The strength for Sacred Heart is that most of the players on the team have played together last year and know what is expected to be successful, especially in the postseason. In addition, the team has competed as a unit for at least a year now, so the Tigers know each other, know what each other are capable of and are quite the cohesive unit.

While Lippmann couldn’t be happier with the team’s chemistry, there’s still work to be done if the Tigers are going to make a run in the postseason.

“I want our blocking and the covering of our hits to improve,” Lippmann said. “I also want our movement on the court to be a little faster. Other than that, I think we are in good shape this year.”

As of press time, the Tigers are 3-0 on the regular season, beating Greens Farms Academy, Newton Country Day School and Hamden Hall by the same 3-0 final score.

“Our win against Greens Farms was good, because we got the win, but we still made a lot of mistakes,” Lippmann said. “The last game the score was 25-23 and I wasn’t happy with how close the score was. I felt like we gave them too many points. On Friday we had a really good practice and Saturday we played a great game against Newton Country Day School. I left the starting six in the entire first game and we won 25-6, so that was great to see. I also let everybody play in the final two sets and that was nice to see as well.”

With the talent on the roster and the determination to get back to the postseason and bring home some hardware, Lippmann

“I would like to say that we are going to win everything,” Lippmann said. “That’s what I want and that’s what they are capable of, but I think our biggest enemy is us and believing that we can do it. I am going to do my best to keep them on top of their game the whole season. I want them to excel.”

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