Junior high sports are, by definition, a work in progress. For some it is the first time playing a particular sport, a leap of faith into an unknown world, compounded by the inherent self-consciousness of being a 7th or 8th grader. That being said, those that brave the 10-week season often find themselves significantly improved and far more confident in their chosen sport.
The junior high girls’ volleyball team has 12 athletes, coached by physical education teacher Brian Becker and assisted by varsity player Alexis Perlaki.
With five 8th graders and seven 7th graders, the athletes range from short to tall and confident to timid.
However, the entire team has seen significant progression in its skills and teamwork. Coach Brian Becker’s goals are for the girls to learn the basic skills the correct way and have fun. Set up to give equal playing time for each athlete, the JH format stresses progress over product and assures that all get a chance to play. Wins aren’t a priority, although they are a nice perk. The team had a 4-5 record this year.
Coach Becker said, “Alexis was a great assistant to have throughout the season, and role model for the younger girls. The girls respected her experience, and she brings her perspective and understanding of the game as a player.”
Coach Becker also praised other high school players who helped out. “I think it is really special how the high school girls have helped so much over the years. I believe it is so good for the girls to feel part of a program when the older girls are actively helping an individual working one on one with future volleyball stars.”
For her part Coach Perlaki said she very much enjoyed her time coaching, saying it was rewarding to see the girls grow in confidence and skills. “Every day they improve themselves. In the first days they are just happy they can hit the ball” but as they actually start to know the game it is even more fun. Her experience has reinforced her goal of going to college to become a coach.
Amelia Reiter, Maria Carbajal and Jennifer Lupo are great examples of players who started the season a bit unsure of themselves, but have made great strides in their overall confidence. Coach Becker said, “The girls have improved a lot in learning to play as a team. They are calling the ball and communicating much better.”
During the second half of the season, the team has also experimented with some specialization of positions. Using the full three hits per side to set up a spike is a challenging task for developing athletes, but is quite thrilling when it happens. Abby Kotula, Emma Gallagher, Lauren Gurney, along with captains Ella Mysliborski, and Holly Ross have each been designated as setters- those players who chase down the second hit and set it up for the final attack. Their quick feet, good ball control and soft touch on the ball are fun to watch.
Serving and serve receive is a huge part of junior high volleyball, and the rousing cheers and huge grins on Amelia Clark and Jaime Lenzer’s faces as they each scored an ace against East Moriches on January 14 during the last match of the season, showed the pride in their season-long effort. Holly Ross, Elizabeth Cummings and Abby Kotula were the dominant servers of the match, earning 14, 11 and 10 points apiece.
Although the familiar pass, set, hit rhythm of the game isn’t fully realized at the junior high level, this team showed that it wasn’t afraid to take some swings. Lauren Gurney and Lily Garrison would hit with confidence, wherever they were on the floor, surprising opponents with the hard returns.
As the junior high sports season now shifts and most of the girls trade in their kneepads for basketball shoes, the coaches are confident that the fun the girls had on the court will translate into eager athletes, no matter what their chosen sport is, at the high school level.