Alex Worthington made an immediate impression.
After progressing consistently through each of her seasons on the Millbrook High School volleyball team, the senior middle blocker arrived at preseason showing signs that she was ready to become the offensive threat the Blazers will need.
“I actually had a talk with her about that before the match,” Millbrook coach Shawn Stoliker said, “that this really could be her year. She can be a force for us.”
The Blazers’ new offense, which stresses the importance of their middle hitters, was on display on Friday during their season-opening 25-4, 25-15, 25-7 win over New Paltz at Millbrook High School.
At 6 feet tall, Worthington was a towering presence at the middle of the net, using Meredith Dignan sets to hammer three straight spikes that went for points 20, 21 and 22 of the first game. Dignan finished with 13 assists, and freshman setter Kayla Gusikoff added seven.
The Blazers won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League and Section 9 Class C championships a year ago, and ultimately reached the state semifinal round.
“All offseason I just wanted to get back on the court,” Worthington said after a preseason practice last week. “Hopefully we can reach that goal again.”
New Paltz kept the score closer in the second game as Millbrook rotated in different players off the bench, but the Blazers never fell behind.
Worthington made a block for a point early on, and scored on a dink to make it 11-7. Later, junior outside hitter Cassie Weaver put away a back-row spike to take a six-point edge, and the Huguenots never recovered.
Millbrook featured its outside hitters in recent years, namely 2013 graduate Amanda Riebe, who broke a program record with 375 kills last season. This year, Stoliker said players like Worthington and fellow senior middle Brittany Keenan have the skills to make a shift in the offense, but it will be up to the whole team to succeed.
“When you’re using a middle hitter, it all relies on the passing,” he said. “Today our passing was phenomenal. We were able to use (Worthington) a lot, which was great. … She can really draw the offense to her, that leaves other hitters open.”
Weaver ended with a team-best eight kills and three digs, while Worthington had seven kills, two aces and a block.
New Paltz’s Caroline Aurigemma totaled six assists, four digs and two kills.
Stoliker said he “definitely loved everything” about his team’s opening win, namely its passing, serving and controlling the ball, “things the other team doesn’t affect. It’s all on us.”
Midway through the second game, the Huguenots were seemingly about to score with the ball headed for the back right corner of the Blazers’ side. But two diving, one-handed saves and a bump later, Millbrook had not only returned the ball, but had stolen the point.
“That play was incredible. I love that play,” Stoliker said. “What I said to the girls was, if we play defense like that, if we can be scrappy, if we can be on the floor and make those great plays, we don’t have to worry so much about replacing a hitter like Amanda Riebe.”