MILLBROOK – Both the Spackenkill High School and Millbrook High School volleyball teams remember last season well. For the Spartans, it was historic. To the Blazers, it was the end of a title run.
Last year, Spackenkill brought Millbrook’s two-year reign as Section 9 Class C champion to a halt, capturing its first volleyball title in program history.
This year, the long-term goal is to build off that success.
“I think we’d like to make it back and win it,” said Spackenkill coach Cassi Diamond, whose Spartans reached the New York State Final Four last year. “That’s a long-term goal. We’re keeping our focus and working hard, and if that takes us to the section finals, that’s great.”
The loss, however, left the Blazers with a bit of a sour feeling.
“Last year we sadly lost in sectionals and that was very hard for all of us,” said Megan Fergus, a senior who played organized volleyball for the first time last year.
Yet Fergus and the rest of the teams in the mid-Hudson Valley are ready to start the 2015 fall season fresh.
“We expected to go very far last year,” Fergus said, “so for this year, I think we need to focus more on sectionals. And whatever happens after that happens.”
Added setter Kayla Gusikoff, a junior: “I feel we definitely can get that section title and from then on work our butts off, try as hard as we can.”
It’s no secret Millbrook’s goal is to get back on track to a section title, and their desire to attain that goal is apparent. Coach Shawn Stoliker said his girls walked into the first day of practice as if it was “Christmas morning” with a hunger to get back to their winning ways.
“After not winning last year, I think they want to get back to that level,” he said on Wednesday, at the Blazers’ annual Play Day, a multi-team scrimmage on their court. “That’s definitely what they’re talking about, getting back to championship level. That’s what they’re working toward.”
But they will have to contend with the now-experienced Spartans to get there.
“Instead of starting from square one, we’re starting in a good place,” Diamond said. “With the experience we have, the focus is going to be on plays rather than the basic skills. Coming off that kind of season, they’re confident.”
On Thursday, Marlboro got its first taste of regular season action, sweeping Dover at home, 25-13, 25-13, 25-23.
“I think it was really important,” said Marlboro coach Christy Porter of her team collecting its first win of the season. “Overall, we’re building confidence and getting comfortable in our new positions and roles.”
Arlington, Beacon, Pawling and Pine Plains were four other teams in action at Millbrook’s Play Day.
For a squad like Beacon, commitment has shown early. However, coach Ron Pagliaro expects his team to pick up steam in the later part of the year.
“They’ve given me all-out attention, they come every day and are dedicated for two, two-and-a-half hours,” Pagliaro said. “It’s definitely going to be a team that will be better late than they are early. I’m looking forward to the second half already.”
Pawling coach Jessica Pulford led her team to a Section 1 Class C title in 2010. She expects the Tigers to be competitive this year, with the goal of winning another championship in sight.
“The last few years we’ve set our expectations high and we’ve fallen short,” she said. “My girls have set as their goal, completely, to win the section this year. I think a lot of people in Class C are expecting us to be one of the top teams.”
Pine Plains, under first-year coach Larry Strickland, stressed team chemistry as his squad’s main strength. He expects it to carry the Bombers into the season.
“I think everybody kind of knows what their role is,” he said. “I think we have a pretty good balance and have a pretty good chance to go far in the sectionals. We’ve got good hitters, decent setters and we’re working on various aspects of our game.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports