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Connetquot sets sights on another state title

Connetquot's Mackenzie Cole and Mackenzie Taylor team up

Connetquot's Mackenzie Cole and Mackenzie Taylor team up for the return during the girls Class AA volleyball championships on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Although last season didn’t end the way Nicole Migliozzi and the Connetquot Thunderbirds wanted, winning two state volleyball championships in three seasons is a reachable goal.

Migliozzi, Mackenzie Cole, Cassandra Patsos, Mackenzie Taylor, Taylor Konzen, Skyla Schoppmeyer and Daniella Balsano won the Class A title as sophomores in 2015, but their hopes of a repeat were dashed in the 2016 title game, a 3-1 loss to Penfield. One of the biggest storylines of the fall is whether the Thunderbirds’ core can bounce back and win one last state Class AA championship.

“We even watched it last week,” Migliozzi said before a straight-sets win over Sachem North in their Suffolk I opener on Sept. 1. “We’re ready to move on and take it game by game. We’re just going to enjoy our senior year and go as far as we can together.”

Connetquot has gone undefeated on Long Island the last two seasons and has established itself as a perennial power. Rival Suffolk AA coaches have said they’re as dangerous as ever with five Division I players in Cole, Migliozzi, Patsos, Taylor and Balsano.

Will their core win one last state championship before graduating? This, along with the following, are some of the biggest girls volleyball questions this fall.

Can Massapequa continue its dominance with a new coach?

CarolAnn Habeeb coached the Chiefs to their 17th straight Nassau AA championship last November, but she’s handed the reins to Kelley Collins, a 2008 Massapequa graduate who played collegiately at Western Connecticut State.

“I’m definitely excited, especially as an alumni of Massapequa,” Collins said. “I grew in this program. I have a lot to bring with the competitive spirit of the program and just keeping the traditions alive.”

Massapequa is talented with hitters Kathleen Doherty and Gabriella Heimbauer providing the punch. Libero Toni Lippolt is one of Nassau’s top defenders. You can bet on the Chiefs being a disciplined, efficient team.

This could be Long Beach’s year for a breakthrough, but for now, Massapequa is still at the top of Nassau AA.

Which team will emerge from Nassau A?

South Side, Wantagh and Mineola are the likely favorites, with one coach in Nassau A offering that Mineola could surprise in its first year up from Class B.

Floral Park won last year’s county title and could also still compete behind a stingy defense.

Each team has its stars, as Sam Schroeder (Mineola), Sarah Corry (Wantagh) and Caroline Lanzillotta and Caroline LaMacchia (South Side) could bring the race down to the season’s final week.

Is this the year of the libero?

In short, yes.

Cole, who is verbally committed to Duke, is by far the best at the position, even though she’s expected to mostly play outside for Connetquot. Balsano and Taylor are also defensive anchors, giving Connetquot an embarrassment of riches on the back line.

Meagan Murphy (Kings Park) has shown a willingness to dive across the floor to keep points alive. She’s key to Kings Park’s run for a seventh straight state tournament berth.

Maelyn Latko (Whitman), Abbey Dummler (Commack), Belle Smith (Westhampton), Sheryl Mathew (Floral Park), LaMacchia (South Side) and Lippolt (Massapequa) are just a few other liberos to watch.

What’s the landscape of the CHSAA?

The Catholic League is deep.

Kellenberg has won consecutive league titles, and the trio of Madison Gale, Trinity Manning and Grace Cullen could keep the Firebirds at the top.

But St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony’s and Holy Trinity have exceptional players who can impact the landscape of the league.

The expectation is that the CHSAA will be just as competitive as last season, when Kellenberg and SJB each won 13 matches and Holy Trinity won 11.

1. Connetquot

2. Kings Park

3. Massapequa

4. Kellenberg

5. South Side

6. Sachem East

7. Long Beach

8. St. John the Baptist

9. Wantagh

10. Smithtown East

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