MONTROSE – For the first time in nearly two decades, Hen Hud volleyball coach Diane Swertfager finds herself having to rebuild the team.
After losing the veteran leadership and talent of four senior captains to graduation, the reigning Section 1 Class B champions will break in fresh faces to replace all-state honorees Emily Barthelmes and Lindsay Pelaccio at setter and libero, respectively, along with a pair of first-time captains.
“It’s kind of fun going back to basics,” Swertfager said. “We’re going to see where we’re at and have a good time, because that’s what it’s about. When you leave, as Emily Barthelmes said last year, she made a lot of great friends, it was a great experience, and she wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.”
“She put everything in perspective after that tough loss for us,” Swertfager added, referring to a five-set season-ending loss to eventual state champions Owego Free Academy in the Class B state regional final.
Kirstin Loh, one of two seniors tabbed as a captain by Swertfager this year, said she has been itching to get back on the court after an ankle injury late in the season severely limited her playing time in the postseason.
“It was really hectic, but I really wanted to be there for my teammates,” Loh said. “It was really hard. There were so many times where I asked coach if I could go in and she was like, ‘Just take a rest. You just went in and served, you’re not going to go back in,’ but I really wanted to go in and play. I knew the best that I could do was cheer on my teammates.”
One of the most decorated programs in the state, the Sailors will be back in Class A for the first time since winning back-to-back state titles in that classification in 2006 and 2007. Hen Hud continued its dominance in Class B, winning a state title in 2008 and Section 1 titles in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2015.
In addition to Loh, Swertfager also named Greta Qelaj — a senior who didn’t play volleyball until high school — as a captain.
“It means everything,” Qelaj said of her captaincy. “It’s something that you work so hard for, and it’s just awesome that I finally got it.”
Junior Georgia Lee will take over the starting setter role and sophomore Pam Loh, Kirstin’s sister, will start at libero. Swertfager said Lee and Loh spent a lot of time learning under the tutelage of Barthelmes and Pelaccio.