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Coach Kristina Cavallo has led turnaround for unbeaten Clarke

Some would say third time's a charm.

Sarah Cornell and Michelle Buffolino, seniors on the Clarke girls volleyball team, have been on varsity since their freshman years. In four years on varsity, they've undergone multiple coaching changes.

Three coaches to be exact.

"Every year you have to get used to a new coach and a new vibe," Buffolino said. "The team never got a chance to click."

Everything is clicking now.

Kristina Cavallo has led the Rams to a 12-0 record in Nassau BC-II in her first year as coach. Their most recent win was a relatively close one over Carle Place, 3-0, on Wednesday.

Cavallo had work to do right from the onset of the season. It wasn't so much about changing the talent, she said, but more about accountability.

"I wasn't looking to rebuild a program," Cavallo said about the Rams' 6-9 record last season. "I just wanted to build a little every day."

Buffolino and Cornell are the team's top players, but Victoria Cast, Emily Widmaier, Lauren Savino and others routinely show up in highlights. Cavallo had to be strict in the beginning to make the pieces fit correctly.

"I think she's more disciplined than any coach we've ever had," Cornell said. "But she gets the job done."

Cavallo, a former college softball player at Adelphi, said those who have coached her in the past motivate her to preach accountability.

"I ran a tight ship in the beginning, not to be too strict, but to let everyone know we're here to work hard," Cavallo said. "I like consequences, so I can keep them on their toes. If a ball drops in practice and no one calls it, everyone drops and does five push-ups."

Cavallo recalled the Rams' match against Wheatley on Sept. 24 as a turning point. At the time, both were undefeated. Wheatley led that match 2-1 before Clarke rallied to take the final two games. That proved to all of the Rams that they could be something special.

"At that point we knew that we had so much potential," Buffolino said. "We went to the fifth game and it was back and forth. It was bonding experience. We never wanted a game so badly."

Wheatley is one of the final tests for Clarke on the road to a 16-0 season. The Rams' next match is against them on Tuesday.

Despite uncharted territory, Cavallo is keeping her players in check with one simple message -- another one she learned from a former coach.

"Hustle, heart and communication -- three things that take no skill but we need them all the time," she said. "We have to pick each other up and pick up the slack."

Buffolino said Cavallo will enjoy the moment after their goals are accomplished.

"She knows that we have a job to get done," Buffolino said. "Once we get that job done, she's all about having fun on and off the court."


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