The Sacred Heart girls volleyball team is aware of what it means to be a defending champion. League rivals want nothing more than to take the Spartans down.
The Spartans not only brought home the CHSAA league title last season, but also the state crown — the program’s first since 2007. Plenty of talent graduated and now senior Carlea Mirante will assume a larger role on the outside, but coach Emily Butler is still confident.
Instead of the overwhelming power displayed by last year’s team, Sacred Heart’s going to have to score in other ways.
“We’re definitely going to be a hustling team,” Butler said. “We’re definitely smaller in stature than we had been the last two years, so we’re angling our strategy a little bit differently in terms of being the team that hustles, being the scrappy team.”
Butler said Holy Trinity, another scrappy team, surprised last season and could be a potential contender behind senior libero Lauren Wong. Titans coach Karen Hogan thinks her team could be “really good.”
It could be the usual teams contending for the league title this year, though. Kellenberg returns senior outside hitter Emily Acemovic, and the Firebirds hope to reclaim the league title after winning three straight before Sacred Heart’s dominant showing last fall.
St. Anthony’s and coach Donna Newman have been a steady contender the last four years, but have not been able to lock down the CHSAA title. Perhaps that will change this year with senior libero Emma Benes anchoring what figures to be a strong defensive core. St. John the Baptist will also lean on its libero — senior Casey Gannon — to string together wins against rigorous competition.
For now, though, it all runs through Hempstead. Sacred Heart lost key pieces but is primed to defend its title.
“Everyone wants to take down the top dog," Butler said.