PLYMOUTH, N.H. – Going 25-3 again this season would be nice, but Plymouth State College women’s volleyball coach John Garneau says that’s unlikely to happen in 1997. He and his team weren’t expecting to win the first 20 matches and 25 of 28 overall last year, and they aren’t expecting it this year either.
“We’ve upgraded our schedule so we are not looking at a record,” said Garneau. “We’re looking at getting a post-season bid. We do not have a goal of going 25-3, we have a goal to be good enough to reach post season play. And we could do that this season with fewer wins, based on the strength of our schedule.”
Being a first-year program in ’96, PSC did not face any ranked teams during its inaugural campaign. Winning two in-season tournaments and advancing to the finals of the Little East Conference tournament was not enough to convince any post-season selection committees to include Plymouth State on their invitation lists. So after the success at the initial level, the schedule was upgraded to include several tournaments at some of the top volleyball schools in New England.
“We have seven letterwinners returning, who all got excellent experience playing at the collegiate level last season,” said Garneau, a 1964 PSC graduate who returned to PSC in ’96 after a terrific coaching career at Belmont HS (NH). “We’re young in the setting department, as we will be using a freshman. But the up-side of that is she was one of the best high school players in New Hampshire her senior year. We’ve tried to work quite hard on defense, and we’re going to try to have a more balanced attack from our outside and middle hitters.”
After the season opener Wednesday (Sept. 10), the Panthers get their first taste of the upper echelon this weekend (Sept. 12-13) at the Coast Guard Tournament in New London, CT. Coast Guard has been one of the top teams in New England in recent years. The home opener is next Wednesday (Sept. 17) at Foley Gymnasium against Colby-Sawyer (7:00 p.m.).
“We’ve tried to schedule a number of in-season tournaments on weekends,” said Garneau, “and individual matches during the week against the schools closest to us. This will give us a chance to play a lot of volleyball, and see where we are as a program. And the tournament play will prepare us for the post-season when we get there.”
The return of seven letterwinners from last year’s squad will be the anchors of the team. A couple of newcomers could be keys to the squad, but Garneau sees the veterans handling the bulk of the load.
Senior co-captain Megan Swenson (New Ipswich, NH) returns as a middle hitter. She led the team last season in hitting percentage and kills/game, and was second on the team in blocks. She was the MVP of the Plymouth State Invitational and an All-Tournament Team selection at the Little East Championship.
PSC will look to a pair of seniors and a pair of sophomores as outside hitters. Senior captain Chantelle Renna (Oakland, ME-Belmont, NH) and senior Joyce Pochily (Belmont, NH) have been performing well for Garneau since their days together at Belmont H.S. Renna was one of the top hitters for the Panthers last season, and Pochily was a defensive leader and an excellent server. Sophomores Veronica Mulholland (Billerica, MA) and Jill Langis (Farmington, NH) were both in the regular rotation, and Mulholland was a top defensive player.
The setter is freshman Stephanie Spiridakis (Belmont, NH), another of Garneau’s former players. She has endless energy, and can get to balls anywhere on the court. She will have to help PSC recover from the loss of last year’s senior captain and starting setter Kelly Hurley.
Others who could enjoy plenty of playing time for PSC are sophomore Sarah Goggin (Harwinton, CT) and freshman Pam Prince (Tilton, NH/Winnisquam). Both are defensive specialists who will see time on the back row. Sophomore Anna Lingelbach (Center Harbor, NH) starts the season on the injured list, but will be a nice addition as a 6’0″ middle blocker when she returns.
Rounding out the squad are sophomore Andrea Baretta (Kensington, CT), who plays along the back line, and Laurel Smith (Holliston, MA), a freshman outside hitter.