At age 8, Amanda Gannon already was the focal point of a high school volleyball team. No, really. Her mom, then the coach of the Bethpage boys team, would sometimes position Amanda on the court during accuracy drills in practice and have the players aim at spots on the floor just beside her.
"She'd put me on the 10-foot line like, 'Amanda, just stay right there,' " Gannon said, laughing. "It was kind of fun, actually."
The target once again is on Gannon, now that she is a senior superstar for the Kings Park girls volleyball team. After winning a third consecutive Long Island Class A title, Kings Park graduated its other two All-Long Island players, so naturally, the spotlight redirects to a certain 5-11 outside hitter. Nevertheless, Gannon has made it known that her goal is to deliver Kings Park's first state championship, and she willingly bears the onus.
"There's pressure," she said, "but I thrive off that. It'll only make me and my teammates better."
Gannon is a two-time All-Long Island selection and a Junior Olympian committed to Iona. She already owns the school record for kills and needs only 17 more to reach 1,000 for her career. Still, she has worked tirelessly to improve her defense and quickness this season. Gannon, who has coaching aspirations, also has become more of a vocal leader. "There's nothing she can't do on the court," Kings Park coach Lizz Manley said. "She's our best defensive and offensive player."
To think, cheerleading is what first piqued Gannon's interest in middle school. She didn't make that team, so her attention shifted to volleyball. "Being around the sport so much, it came naturally to me," she said. "I got better quickly."
As did Kings Park, when Gannon made varsity as a freshman and helped the team blossom into a powerhouse.
This group now also features two dominant 6-1 middle hitters in Kathleen Benson and Emily Stephens. Setter Stephanie Cornwell runs the offense and liberos Andrea Borkowski and Erin MacDougall anchor the defense as Kings Park appears poised for another run.
Class A challengers include Suffolk runner-up Islip. Sayville, with Jessica Griffin, and semifinalist Eastport-South Manor also pose a threat. Defending Nassau champ Long Beach is rebuilding but remains formidable with Alex Price and Gabby Ayzenberg. South Side, led by Maya Shabbir and Sydney Gabriel, and Wantagh, featuring Megan Pennino and Shannon Hubert, are among the elite.
Massapequa, the defending Long Island Class AA champ, has maintained a dynasty with 14 straight Nassau titles. The Chiefs return four starters, including standouts Mikayla Porr, Jamie Schlesinger and Allie Dillon. Kole Pollack, Jamie Smith and Julia Nicolini have great athleticism. Baldwin has a senior-laden group led by Erica Ackerman, Bridget Walsh and Kiera Knauer. Port Washington, powered by Mia Walker and Alessandra Villalta, Syosset, led by Liz Thomas, and Plainview JFK, featuring Maria Coniglio and Alison Berger, are in the mix.
Smithtown East could repeat as Suffolk champ, led by Blakely Murphy, Kendra Harlow, Haley Anderson and Fiona Phillips. Ward Melville, a strong rival, features potential superstar Alex Stein, Christine Donat, Carly Backiel and Tracy Singleton. Victoria Homfeld and Christa LaBarbera will keep Hauppauge in contention, and Connetquot is on the rise with Mackenzie Cole, Cassandra Patsos and Lizzie Hickey.
Glenn has owned Class B, winning 13 straight Long Island titles, and remains a force with All-Long Island middle hitter Simi Familusi and setter Grace Cergol. Carley Seekamp leads runner-up East Hampton and upstart Bayport-Blue Point is a contender. Seaford graduated several key players from last year's Nassau title squad, but still is solid with Erin Russell and Shannon Fredericks. They'll be challenged by Lynbrook and Mineola. Mattituck, winner of three of the last four Suffolk titles, topped Carle Place for last year's Long Island Class C championship. With Kelly Colligan, Shelter Island is favored to win the Class D title.
St. Anthony's captured its sixth CHSAA title in the last seven years and should again be a force with setter Kelly Fitzpatrick, middle hitter Allison Impellizeri and libero Danielle Vaiano. It will be challenged by Kellenberg, led by Ally Good and Victoria Moulder, and Sacred Heart.
Suffolk Players to Watch
Kathleen Benson, Kings Park, middle hitter, Sr.
Mackenzie Cole, Connetquot, libero, Fr.
Samantha Colombo, Bellport, outside hitter, Sr.
Gabrielle Darnaby, Newfield, middle hitter, Jr.
Simi Familusi, Glenn, middle hitter, Sr.
Kelly Fitzpatrick, St. Anthony's, setter, Sr.
Amanda Gannon, Kings Park, outside hitter, Sr.
Kendra Harlow, Smithtown East, middle hitter, Jr.
Allie Impellizeri, St. Anthony's, middle hitter, Sr.
Blakely Murphy, Smithtown East, outside hitter, Sr.
Alex Stein, Ward Melville, outside hitter, Jr.
Nassau Players to Watch
Maria Coniglio, Plainview JFK, outside hitter, Jr.
Sydney Gabriel, South Side, setter, Sr.
Jamie Goldstein, Syosset, middle hitter, Sr.
Ally Good, Kellenberg, setter, Sr.
Megan Pennino, Wantagh, outside hitter, Sr.
Mikayla Porr, Massapequa, libero, Sr.
Alex Price, Long Beach, outside hitter, Sr.
Erin Russell, Seaford, setter, Jr.
Jamie Schlesinger, Massapequa setter, Sr.
Maya Shabbir, South Side, right side hitter, Sr.
Bridget Walsh, Baldwin, outside hitter, Sr.