Senior outside hitter Hannah Chapin is one of five returning starters and 11 returning players overall for the defending state champion Bears. FIle Photo. (click for larger version)
September 02, 2013TILTON – It was a dream season for the Winnisquam Regional High School volleyball team, as the Bears swept Nute in the finals to capture their second Division III state championship in three years. With 11 returning players back and a whopping eight seniors on the roster, there's a reason Winnisquam is at the top of every coach's power rankings entering the fall.
But despite winning the crown in 2012, coach Mike Livernois knows his team isn't going to be satisfied when the season kicks off Friday night at Pittsfield. Getting this group to focus on the task at hand hasn't been a problem so far.
"I think it's been easy because they had to work so hard last year to get to where they got to," explained Livernois, whose team went through the D-III tournament as the sixth seed in the field. "They appreciate it because it took so much. There are four kids playing for their fourth year of varsity and they know how hard it is to do it. They don't take it for granted. They know they have to work at it every single day. They're pretty motivated on their own, especially those seniors. Once you've won it a couple times, you want to do it your own senior year especially."
The road to the title took the Bears through an all-time classic in Moultonborough for a quarterfinal win before taking out Farmington in the semis and Nute in the finals.
"From the beginning we just all clicked," recalled senior outside hitter Hannah Chapin. "Having success in the past, that obviously makes things go more smoothly. We fed off that and it was nice to prove you didn't have to be a one or two seed to win the title. We wanted to prove that we could go back and win another title. After losing in the Final Four as sophomores, that drove us. You can't take winning for granted."
Chapin and co-captain Carissa Archibald know that despite returning a huge chunk of last year's team, there's no guarantee the Bears will waltz into the title match once again.
"It's still going to be a challenge this year," Archibald admitted. "Even with 11 returning players back, you still can't assume you're going to win again."
The biggest hurdle the Bears will have to overcome is the loss of setter Elyssa Clairmont, who graduated after an outstanding career that saw her top 1,000 assists. Junior Erica Doubleday will likely take over the setter role this fall, with senior Dallis Austin also getting a look.
"Elyssa's probably one of the smartest players I ever got to work with," lauded Livernois of Clairmont. "She had an understanding of the game that very few people at her level possess. She had the ability to react to not only the ball but also the other side of the court and base her decision on what was happening on that other side. That's hard to do. Erica doesn't quite have that experience yet but at the same time, she has the luxury of being surrounded by a talented group of girls that can help her get into that role. We aren't requiring Erica to do everything that Elyssa had to do."
Chapin and Archibald will be two of Winnisquam's top hitters, while senior Bailey Long will get the start on the right side. Austin should resume her starting libero role, and she was one of the Bears' best servers last season. Fellow senior Mo Raymond (outside hitter) is a returning starter as well, while classmates Hannah Kilcoyne (utility), Clarissa Macdonald (defensive specialist) and Kaylee Howard (defensive specialist) round out the deep Class of 2014.
"Sometimes it's a little bittersweet," said Chapin of preparing for her final campaign. "It's our last season and we're excited to see what happens but it's still kind of a bummer knowing this is it no matter what."
Archibald explained that the veteran cast of characters on the roster couldn't wait for preseason to get under way.
"We all told the coaches that we wanted this season to hurry up so we can get started," she said. "But coach always says take one game at a time and that's what we're trying to do."
Junior Becky Rapoza will step into the role vacated by graduated senior Fely Pelletier on the weak and strong sides, while sophomores Marissa DeBlaise (strong side hitter), Jaila Remillard (weakside hitter) and Meghan LaBelle (libero) bring quite a bit of talent from the younger ranks.
Winnisquam's title defense gets under way with the road trip to Pittsfield on Friday before the Bears travel to Meredith on Sept. 11 for a visit to Inter-Lakes. The home opener is slated for Sept. 13 when Stevens comes to Tilton.