Natick’s Girls Volleyball Squad Dealing With Major Challenges

Ken Hamwey Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
October, 2018
Article Body: 

The Natick High girls volleyball team, which finished 11-5 last year and qualified for tourney play, will be facing a variety of challenges this season.
Losing six seniors to graduation has put the Redhawks in a bit of a rebuilding mode but they’ve got other concerns, too. They’ve moved into the Carey Division where they’ll be squaring off twice against the larger schools in the Bay State Conference. And, coach Peter Suxho’s team will be without two key starters — juniors Chiara Morley-McLaghlin (middle hitter) and Rebecca Walz (opposite setter) — for the first month of the season. Both are sidelined because of sprained ankles.
Playing in the Carey Division means Natick will be facing Newton North, Framingham, Brookline and Wellesley twice instead of once.
“Our schedule will be more difficult because all those teams are very tough,’’ Suxho said. “There are no breathers. And, we’ll be using a combination of two sophomores and a senior to fill in for Chiara and Rebecca. We’re in a rebuilding year but our goal is to get to the tourney again. If we do, that will be a huge success since our schedule is more difficult.’’
Suxho, however, knows what ingredients are needed to produce a winning team. He’s coached Natick and Millis to state championships in volleyball during a lengthy career that also included a stint as head coach of the Albanian National Team. His overall winning percentage coaching boys and girls at the interscholastic level is 83.
“We’ve got players, especially our seniors, who have experience and good skills,’’ Suxho said. “Our team is a senior-sophomore group. There’s a big gap in the middle, especially with our two juniors out. Our sophomores will have to play strong in the middle and we lack experience on the right side. Qualifying for the tourney is realistic but I’ve got the feeling it’ll be a challenging season.’’
The season has started with mixed results — the Redhawks were 2-2 at Local Town Pages deadline.
Suxho has a trio of senior captains who are capable and lead by example. They include outside hitters Mia Grundberg and Madison Schmid and libero Vanessa Barreto.
“Mia can jump and she gets her share of kills,’’ Suxho said. “She’s athletic, experienced and consistent. Madison is a good athlete who reads the game well and can jump. Vanessa is an effective receiver who can distribute the ball. A read-and-react player, she’s a four-year veteran who has a high volleyball IQ.’’
Sophomore Sophie Vanarsdelo is playing in place of Morley-McLaghlin and senior Elizabeth Landry is filling in for Walz. Sophomore Jenna Formon is also in the mix to play opposite setter.
“Sophie lacks experience as a middle hitter but she can jump and read the play,’’ Suxho said. “She’s coachable, has good court awareness and has passion for the game. Playing opposite setter, Elizabeth has experience and she’s technically sound. She’s quick, serves effectively and she’s athletic. Jenna can also fill in there. She’s tall, athletic and has blocking ability.’’
Senior Shannon Foley is Natick’s starting setter and she’s adept at controlling the Redhawks’ tempo on offense. “Shannon’s our quarterback,’’ Suxho said. “She can pass and serve very well. Her athleticism is outstanding and she’s got a positive attitude.’’
Reserve setters include senior Brooke Leblanc and sophomore Allison Fahy. “Brooke is experienced,’’ Suxho noted. “She’s effective as a server and distributor. Allison is our setter of the future. She’s coachable and she delivers the ball nicely.
Sophomore Lauren Pole will get some playing time, working as a capable reserve for Grundberg and Schmid. “Lauren is athletic,’’ Suxho said. “She’ll enable us to give Mia and Madison a break.’’
Suxho, who’s coached both the Natick boys and girls teams for 14 years, will employ a fast, up-tempo offense that will rely on speed and quickness. On defense, expect the Redhawks to be pesky and aggressive. “Speed and jumping are the two prime attributes needed to have a quality volleyball team,’’ Suxho emphasized. “It’s all about how fast players can run and how high they can jump.’’
Volleyball, like any other sport, is a venue where student-athletes can learn valuable life lessons. And, Suxho is acutely aware that he’s in position to teach those lessons, like overcoming adversity, being an effective leader and assuming responsibility. “I want our players to be winners but I also want them to show class with their success,’’ he said. “Sportsmanship is a terrific lesson to learn along with being a good teammate.’’
Natick is dealing with some early-season injuries and is now competing in a new division that no doubt will be challenging.
But, don’t discount the Redhawks or their coach. When it comes to volleyball, Natick and Peter Suxho seem to always find that Midas touch.