Growth has defined the Connetquot girls volleyball team the past several seasons, both from an individual and team standpoint.
But how can the Thunderbirds possibly build off an undefeated season last fall that culminated in a state Class AA championship? It’s by staying grounded.
“I think going from being the underdog last year to now coming off a state championship, we can definitely improve a lot,” said libero Mackenzie Cole. “But we need to stay humble and hungry.”
The incredible thing about the Thunderbirds is that their core is comprised almost entirely of juniors. As sophomores, they played with maturity and control. Expectations are high this season as a result.
Cole highlights that group of juniors. She plans to play college volleyball at Duke, a major Division I program. Setter Nicole Migliozzi plans to play at Quinnipiac. They both made verbal commitments before their junior seasons, something unheard of in volleyball, Connetquot coach Justin Hertz said.
Other members of the team are weighing college options as well. Outside hitter and libero Mackenzie Taylor is drawing interest and was offered a scholarship by Providence, Hertz said. Defensive specialist Daniella Balsano also is hoping to play Division I.
Hitter Cassandra Patsos is starting the college process. Right side hitter Taylor Konzen figures to draw attention as well. Taylor Cole, Mackenzie Cole’s older sister and one of four seniors on the team, went on visits this summer to Elon and Harvard.
Such a strong core begs the question of whether the Thunderbirds can build a true dynasty. With two more chances at a state title with this group of juniors, the opportunity is there, even if Migliozzi said that’s not the focus.
“We’re really not worrying about how many years we’re going to win or how many of ‘this’ we’re going to do,” she said. “It’s more like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ ”
Hertz said the next logical step for his team is to improve the mental side of the game. His players already do all the fundamentals exceptionally well. Ball control and passing are pristine. Sets are well timed. Hits are powerful.
Now the focus is on adding deception to catch defenses off guard.
“We know that we have a lot of talent, but we also know that we have a lot of work to do,” Taylor Cole said. “We can’t get too cocky, and we can’t let ourselves slack off.”
Connetquot does face stiff competition from Suffolk AA. Smithtown East and Ward Melville figure to be talented, as always, while some coaches believe Lindenhurst could have a bounce-back season.
Of course, the road to another state championship berth always makes its way through Massapequa, winners of 16 consecutive Nassau AA crowns.
Connetquot bested Massapequa, 3-1, in last season’s Long Island championship, setting the stage for a storybook weekend in Glens Falls. Almost a full year removed from the emotions of that game, Migliozzi said it’s been amazing thinking about the magic of last season.
Patsos said that while it was a great experience, the team is focused only on what’s directly ahead.
“We’re trying not to focus on looking too far in the future, or looking back in the past,” she said. “We work day by day, week by week.”
In doing so, Connetquot can take the necessary second step in making what could be a volleyball dynasty.