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Paige Zimmerly, Sacred Heat like to keep things light

Paige Zimmerly of Sacred Heart reacts after a

Paige Zimmerly of Sacred Heart reacts after a point in the third set of a CHSAA girls volleyball match against host St. John the Baptist on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Credit: James Escher

To put it simply, there’s been a culture change around the Sacred Heart volleyball team.

Emily Butler became the coach this season after a 6-8 campaign. Her expectations were to build a program and help the team climb the ranks of the CHSAA.

But in the span of a few months, the Spartans aren’t just part of the discussion. Behind strong leadership from senior captains Paige Zimmerly, Helena Gunther and Irene Krische, they are the discussion.

“I was honestly hoping to take some steps,” Butler said. “I knew that we needed work, and I knew that we’d be a fairly young team. I knew that one of my goals was to finish not in the middle. But within the first week or two of practice, I knew that this would be possible.”

Sacred Heart is 7-1 after a 3-2 win on Tuesday over Kellenberg, the two-time defending CHSAA champion.

Butler’s players have bought into what she teaches, which includes mental strength being just as important as physical strength. Zimmerly said there’s a lighter atmosphere in practice, and the varsity team now practices with junior varsity in hopes of building a long-standing program.

A health teacher at Sacred Heart, Butler also encourages proper nutrition. She even checks in on the players during lunch.

“All the girls laugh every time we hear her coming through the cafeteria,” Zimmerly said. “If we have a cookie or something, we try to hide it.”

“I think it has played a role in our success,” Gunther said. “We do laugh about it sometimes and joke about wanting to get McDonald’s after practice, but it’s been good.”

The Spartans have received contributions from several members of its roster, including juniors Emily Barry and Olivia DeJesus. Assistant coach Jade Murphy said they’ve gone “above and beyond” the expectations.

Carly Mirante, Elizabeth and Kaitlynn D’Angelo have also succeeded. Krische, the team’s starting libero, said she hurt herself earlier in the year, and Emma Profitlich has filled in admirably.

“Everyone does their job,” Krische said. “You can’t really say that we’re a hitting team or a back-row team. I think we do everything well.”

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